Donna Bland
Donna Bland, president and CEO, Golden 1 Credit Union

‘I didn’t get here alone’

Donna Bland is inspired by the women of yesterday and today.

March 18, 2022

Donna Bland views Women’s History Month as a time to reflect on the women who came before her, fighting for civil rights, saving lives, breaking barriers, and overcoming obstacles.

“I also think about the many women who are alive today and making a difference one person at a time,” says Bland, President and CEO at $18 billion asset Golden 1 Credit Union in Sacramento, Calif. “I am proud to be a woman, and this month honors our history.”

Bland reflects on her path to Golden 1, the importance of culture, women who’ve inspired her, and more.

CUNA News: Tell us about your background and your path to Golden 1?

Donna Bland: I was raised in in San Francisco and was always inspired by the skyline of the Financial District. We were of modest means, and I began working while in high school. I began my career as a bank teller while still in college.

After graduating from San Francisco State University, I worked as a certified public accountant with the global tax, audit, and advisory firm KPMG in their San Francisco and Sacramento offices.

I joined Golden 1 Credit Union in 1994 as Vice President and Controller. Two years later, I was promoted to Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. I held that position for 13 years before being named President and CEO in 2010.

Q: Tell us about the culture at Golden 1?

A: People are at the heart of what we do. We exist to better our members’ financial lives.

Our culture is centered around the credit union ethos of “people helping people.” Service to us doesn’t just mean service to our members, but service to each other and our communities.

A healthy corporate culture includes not only words but actions that reinforce who we are. We work hard to ensure our mission, vision, and core values of service excellence, integrity, inclusion, and reliability are not only a part of our everyday vernacular but are put into motion with every interaction.

If we remain focused on our members' well-being, doing right by them at every turn, they will thrive. When our members thrive, Golden 1 thrives.

Q: You’re one of a few women leading credit unions with more than $1 billion in assets. What will it take for more women to lead large institutions?

A: While I have worked hard to achieve my goals, I recognize that I didn’t get here alone. I am fortunate to have had family, teachers, colleagues, and mentors along the way support the growth of my career.

Any leader who can uplift someone who is building a career in their footsteps should embrace the opportunity.

‘Any leader who can uplift someone who is building a career in their footsteps should embrace the opportunity.’
Donna Bland

Q: What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

A: It’s a time to reflect upon the stories of women who came before me; those who fought for civil rights, saved lives, broke barriers, and overcame obstacles.

I also think about the many women in our world who are alive today and making a difference one person at a time. I am proud to be a woman, and this month honors our history.

I have been inspired and encouraged by so many women at various ages and stages of my life. My earliest memory is in grade school when I read every book in the school library about my first hero, Sacagawea. She was amazing.

Most people remember Lewis and Clark, but they would never have completed their expedition to the Pacific in the early 1800s without her guidance and bravery. And, she traversed more than 1,000 miles across mountains and rivers with a baby in her papoose. She taught me perseverance.

During high school I was inspired and encouraged by all the women at my school. I went to an all-girls high school and that helped form my perspective that women can do anything. The women at my school were not only the cheerleaders, they were also the athletes, the student body president, the school newspaper editor, the valedictorian. We were not limited by gender.

My mother overcame adversity, growing up in the middle of World War II on an island where the war was active. She emigrated by herself to the U.S. in her early 20s without a high school degree and limited English.

She met my father and raised four children, working hard at a job for minimal pay to feed us and pay for a good education. She overcame prejudice and poverty. She taught me to be strong, self-reliant, hardworking, and independent.

In college I had the most amazing professor in accounting. She made me love the subject. She was brilliant, patient, and supportive. She inspired me to pursue my career.

In the workplace, I was inspired by a colleague who used to work at Golden 1. I was a new mom at the time, juggling the responsibilities of a growing career and raising a family. I worried early on about whether I could do both well.

She was a single mom and manager at the time, and she demonstrated to me through her own life and outcomes that you can do and have both: I could have a successful career; develop strong, meaningful relationships with my kids; and raise hard-working, smart, loving, good people who also inspire me today to be my best.

I am also inspired by women leaders in our world, from Ruth Bader Ginsburg to activist Malala Yousafzai, who both beat the odds, reshaped the future, and fought for women’s rights.

I am also inspired by the women on Golden 1’s Board of Directors and by the fact that we have a female majority on our board.

There are endless women who have inspired and encouraged me in my life. And I honor and thank every one of them for their stories, their bravery, and the hope they have created for all women, today and tomorrow.

Q: What challenges are unique to women who lead large organizations?

A: Every leader, regardless of their gender, has unique challenges based on their personal experiences, lives, hopes, and dreams.

No two people are the same and, therefore, their challenges are just as unique.

Q: Tell us about a hurdle you overcame during your career and how it shaped your drive to succeed?

A: The personal and societal belief that a woman could not have a successful career and be an involved and nurturing mother. I wanted both and worked very hard to be both.

My children are thriving adults now and I’m proud to say all the effort is worth it.

Q: What career advice would you offer young professionals?

A: You can have a successful career and a family life and raise kids. You just need to learn how to juggle your priorities and simplify your overall life.

Q: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

A: As a young and adventurous person while growing up in San Francisco, I would skateboard, sitting down of course, all the way from the top of Twin Peaks through the city.