From left, CUNA VP of DEI Samira Salem, Inclusiv Network EVP Pablo DeFilippi, Local Government FCU CEO Maurice Smith, Tarrant County's Credit Union President/CEO Lily Newfarmer, and Coopera CEO Victor Corro discuss sustainable DEI practices at a panel Wednesday. (CUNA photo)

Summit explores role of leadership, sustainability in DEI work

November 3, 2022

Credit union diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are part of the credit union movement, whether internally, or how credit unions serve communities, panelists said Wednesday at NCUA’s DEI Summit. CUNA Vice President of DEI Samira Salem participated in a panel on sustainable DEI in the credit union movement, and moderated a panel on DEI in leadership later in the summit.

Salem was joined on the sustainable DEI panel by Pablo DeFilippi, executive vice president of Inclusiv Network, Lily Newfarmer, president/CEO of Tarrant County’s Credit Union, and Maurice Smith, CEO of Local Government Credit Union and former CUNA board chair.

Smith, whose 43-year credit union career has seen five recessions and almost every other economic development, said the same vulnerable communities are the ones hurt in each economic downturn, and they’ll be the ones hurt in the next one.

“No one has the moral authority to serve these communities like credit unions do,” he said. “And if we don’t, no one else will. DEI is at the center of those efforts.”

Salem said it’s important for credit unions to develop voices within its organization, including board members and staff who can help build community relationships.

DeFilippi said DEI efforts are credit unions’ opportunity to become more of a reflection of the communities they serve, especially in too many communities where the lack of financial services access is a constant.

“Credit unions came into and changed a system that wasn’t designed to serve everyone, and that’s still the case,” he said. “This is our opportunity to show that we can serve these communities better than anyone else.”

Smith said he hesitates to call DEI efforts a project, as that denotes both an end and that ultimate responsibility falls on one person or department.

“DEI needs to be part of the DNA of your entire organization, of every department, from HR to lending,” he said. “Everyone should have it on their plate to further DEI efforts.”

Salem noted how CUNA works to embed DEI throughout the organization.

“We carry a shared responsibility to ensure our organization continuously re-affirms DEI principles, it’s not just my job, or our DEI team’s job,” she said.

Newfarmer said her credit union has made concrete efforts to make DEI part of its overall strategy. This includes creating a community development advisory committee that brings together nonprofits from around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, not just in finance, but leaders of food banks and affordable housing organizations, among others.

“Before this group it felt like we were taking a lot of stabs in the dark, and it felt like we were often missing the mark,” she said. “But this committee has provided valuable input and also serves as a feeder for future board members.”

Ensuring DEI in the boardroom and the c-suite was a major topic of conversation during the panel. Smith highlighted the importance of credit union leaders—especially at the decision-making level—having a “line of sight” to the communities they serve. In 1969 there were approximately 23,000 credit unions and 21.6 million members, while today there are less than 5,000 credit unions with more than 130 million members.

“Larger credit unions serving larger communities can make it easier for directors to lose their line of sight into their communities, while members aspiring to take a leadership role in a credit union have fewer spots to land,” he said. “Leadership that doesn’t have that line of sight can make it easy for DEI efforts to get lost. If those precious board seats don’t truly represent your members, how can you ensure your credit union is serving those members?”

The panelists agreed that change doesn’t happen overnight, but that credit unions can take firm steps today to set themselves up for future success.

“Succession planning can play a big role in this, credit unions promoting from within, especially the ones that have a diverse staff that represents their community,” Salem said. “Providing your staff with a career path or ladder naturally helps move that inclusion into the membership space.”

Credit Union House Managing Director Sue McCue participated in a panel on attracting, developing, and retaining employees with disabilities. Other sessions over the three-day even include:

  • Blockchain, cryptocurrency, and homeownership.
  • Engaging and retaining LGTBQ+ employees.
  • The current state of DEI in the credit union movement.
  • Benefits of equity and equality.
  • DEI success stories.

The complete event will be posted to NCUA’s YouTube page within the next week.