DEI is in credit unions’ DNA, at CUNA GAC and beyond

‘It’s a message we bring every day to members of Congress and legislative staff.’

February 23, 2023

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is in the DNA of the credit union movement. CUNA works to advance it within our organization, and we support and amplify credit union and system partners’ DEI efforts. As such, we are excited to highlight this important work throughout DEI Tuesday during the 2023 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference, which commences in just a few days.

DEI is at the heart of CUNA’s advocacy. We do not view DEI as solely a plan of action, a program, or a concept to adopt. It is embedded in who we are and what we do.

“It is a message we bring every day to members of Congress and legislative staff in seeking their support legislatively to help us expand our role in the greater community and be able to deliver real results to our members and their constituents,” shares Jason Stverak, CUNA deputy chief advocacy officer for federal government affairs,

Equity and financial inclusion work, they make things better for everyone, and we at CUNA need to be leaders in that belief. The lack of economic opportunity and inability to build family wealth has been an historic blight on our underserved and historically marginalized communities. Look at evidence of biased appraisals and depressed home values for Black homeowners. We strive to ensure those in our credit union community will not be denied refinancing or mortgage loans because of these artificially low valuations, and that’s only one part of the system we’re taking on.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion for CUNA, Leagues, credit unions, and our system partners means reaching out to those in our community, our neighbors, colleagues, friends, and business partners, especially the underserved. DEI also means reflecting the diversity of those we serve. This helps us better understand our members and potential members, their needs, and the barriers they face, and it helps us create a trusting relationship. We are part of them and are here to help them thrive financially, today, tomorrow, and for generations to come. 

Whether a credit union among farmers in Central Valley, Calif., the Lakota Federal Credit Union in South Dakota, the firefighters credit union in New York State, Border Federal Credit Union on the Texas-Mexican border or credit unions working with the National Sheriff’s Association to teach financial literacy to populations within our nation’s prisons, it’s not only about serving diverse members of our community but embracing them as our community.

“DEI is the journey that never ends, and there is no roadmap to follow. It is a continuing engagement that needs to be carefully forged, reinvigorated, refined, and committed to on an ongoing basis. We believe at CUNA that we are on this crucial path in large part because of the commitment from the top, including our Board of Directors, our CEO Jim Nussle and the executive team," says Samira Salem, CUNA vice president of DEI. "It is not solely a verbal commitment; it is actions; our values, goals and objectives we have co-created with our staff, and constant support for our daily efforts to move the needle on DEI.” 

At CUNA, we are intentionally working to embed DEI throughout our organization from policies and procedures for finding and retaining talent, to pay equity analysis, to creating an inclusive and equitable workplace where there are regular opportunities for staff to come together in a psychologically safe space to learn, share, and grow together and more. 

“At CUNA we are calling people in, not calling them out,” says Salem. 

Renée Sattiewhite, president/CEO of the African American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC), understands deeply what DEI means in the credit union movement. She says, “Our organization and our work promoting equity and inclusion has been advanced due to our relationship with CUNA. AACUC was borne out of the very conference we will be attending next week. I have seen the purposeful efforts CUNA has made, under Jim Nussle’s leadership, to engage people of color in a way that has increased diversity at the GAC and other credit union industry events.”

“With respect to diversity, equity and inclusion, we are growing as a movement to become more and more inclusive every day. The collaborative and mutually supportive relationship between AACUC and CUNA is intentional and I feel we touch CUNA’s heart and soul as a result. An example of this was the support of CUNA leadership as we established Commitment to Change: Credit Unions Unite Against Racismin the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. CUNA, along with all of the nation’s credit union Leagues stood with us and continue to do so today. CUNA also held an instrumental leadership role in the formation of the DEI Collective and has now integrated our vision of DEI Tuesday into the largest credit union event of the year.”

“There is no other industry that serves people as passionately as credit unions do," Sattiewhite states. “I am convinced more now than ever that our movement can lead the nation in eliminating racial discrimination.” 

That is what it means to have equity in our DNA, to improve the financial well-being of our members and communities and supporting social change.

Diversity, equity and inclusion doesn’t work here, some say, our community is too homogeneous. Diversity was never intended to speak to only race and ethnicity, or only to minority communities. While diversity means bringing in people of diverse races and ethnicity into our branches and our executive offices, it also means reaching out to diverse religions, cultures, economic situations, ages, and more.

Maria Martinez, president/CEO of Border FCU, Del Rio, Texas, CUNA Board member, and co-founder of the National Association of Latino Credit Unions & Professionals (NLCUP) and the Credit Union Women’s Leadership Alliance (CUWLA). She is an accomplished and recognized leader on these matters. Martinez is also the first Hispanic president/CEO of Border FCU and first Hispanic woman winner of the National Credit Union Foundation’s Outstanding Individual Achievement Herb Wegner Award.

According to Martinez, “I can best serve DEI goals by being a voice, a motivator, and mentor by example. I want to build a legacy, not only to Hispanic members, but to the credit union movement to bring Hispanics and other minorities into leadership positions among the smaller credit unions across the country.” 

“DEI means breaking down barriers. Don’t wait for others to break those barriers, motivate yourself. Push, push, push. Invite yourself to the dinner table. It may not be easy, but that is what it takes to make DEI work,” she says.

Martinez  has also been pleased to be on the CUNA Board of Directors at a time when it, and the organization, continue to push DEI to the forefront. The organization moved to add DEI to the seven cooperative principles guiding the CUNA-League system at the urging of Maurice Smith, CUNA Board Chair at the time. The CUNA Board supported the resolution in September 2019.

According to Martinez, “DEI continues to be a priority for CUNA and our board of directors. All these organizations working together, collaborating with CUNA for DEI Tuesday at the GAC, is just another example of how we are focusing on the inclusive culture of the credit union movement.” 

We hope you will engage in the activities, sessions, and celebrations set to take place during CUNA GAC’s DEI Tuesday, as we continue our journey as a credit union movement, together.