DEI: More than a program

Credit union leaders discuss commitment to “positive pressure” at NCUA Summit.

November 4, 2022

Being in the financial industry, credit unions have naturally developed outcomes measured by monetary and numeric markers. Determining outcomes on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) requires not only different measures, but a conceptual shift on the part of leaders and organizations, according to panelists who appeared at the NCUA DEI & Access Summit.

The panel was hosted Samira Salem, CUNA’s vice president of DEI. “There is a growing cadre of leaders in our movement who have rejected the traditional top-down approach to leadership laser-focused on the bottom line,” Salem says. “Their commitment to DEI has led them to embrace inclusive leadership. Inclusive leadership is opening opportunities to do better for their employees and more for their members while remaining relevant and growing.” 

Chuck Purvis, president/CEO at $4.7 billion Coastal Credit Union, Raleigh, N.C., concurs with Salem.

“It’s not about financial results today,” Purvis told the breakout audience Nov. 2. “It’s about making that investment that brings financial stability in the future.”

Purvis notes that his credit union was founded 55 years ago to serve male, white-collar IBM employees. Today the credit union operates 23 branches in central North Carolina and serves a wide demographic in all 50 states through shared branching.

But after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Purvis and his leadership team met with a consultant to consider the impact of the incident and how the organization would move forward in light of the social climate.

‘It’s not about financial results today. It’s about making that investment that brings financial stability in the future.’
Chuck Purvis

“As an organization, we took the time to ask questions and learn,” Purvis says. “We realized this is a long journey.”

Purvis said Coastal’s company-wide incentive plan now includes more employee engagement built around DEI concepts. “Diversity training is a big part of our current goals,” Purvis says. “It's about ensuring that we are all learning and taking advantage of opportunities for learning.”

Steve Stapp, president/CEO at $1.7 billion Unitus Community Credit Union, Portland, Ore., said his leadership team underwent a similar period of reflection.

“Our culture exists to support our employee and community in different ways than it did prior to these events,” Stapp says. “We decided to use these events to carry out our mission differently. To me, it’s been life-changing for us, and we're not going back to the way it was. We're pushing forward in this new world.”

Brian Best, president/CEO at $4.7 billion GTE Financial, Tampa, Fla., says he has pushed to develop a family atmosphere within his organization that creates a “positive pressure” of caring for one another behind financial results.

“Once you change that lens, you really start seeing a groundswell of some amazing things within your organization and community. If you look inward and you see it as family, then you start understanding that there's a lot of different opportunities that you have as the CEO or leader of the organization to do more for the people you serve,” he says.

And like a family value, DEI should not be considered an organizational initiative or goal to be met through standard metrics, according to Lynn Heckler, director of human resources at PSCU.

“If you think of DEI as a program or initiative at a credit union, and there's an economic downturn, the program might get cut, like training and the other programs,” Heckler says. “But if you make it part of your culture, when times get tough, you don't abandon your values.”