Foster a Culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Your Credit Union
March 9, 2021
Across the country, credit unions are sharpening their focus on the essential task of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout their organizations as well the Credit Union Movement at large.
With the help of trusted consultants and advisors, such as the experts from Your Credit Union Partner, this critical effort doesn’t have to feel overwhelming, especially since credit unions’ not-for-profit cooperative structure and “People Helping People” spirit makes them perfectly positioned to champion DEI.
Below, Your Credit Union Partner sheds light on how credit unions can weave an inclusive culture through every level of their organization, starting with leadership.
Fostering true diversity, equity, and inclusion in an organization is, in a nutshell, about finding out what people are all about, celebrating their differences, and lifting up their voices. It really boils down to the concept that, when you look at things from someone else’s point of view — listening and understanding where they are coming from — you allow yourself to be open to new ideas and ways of thinking, thus strengthening your organization’s mission and values.
So, what does it mean to build a culture around inclusion?
It’s not possible to broach the subject of inclusion without first addressing the problem of bias. Every individual and organization has their own biases, whether implicit or unconscious. This includes the attitudes and stereotypes people develop based on characteristics such as race, age, ethnicity, weight, gender, ability, cultural values, or appearance.
Because human brains are wired to make assumptions, it requires a conscious, ongoing effort to recognize and dismantle the biases that run rampant in society.
Building an inclusive culture can help break down these biases, but it’s not just about increasing diversity among the workforce. Without ensuring there is a culture of support and inclusion in place, simply hiring more diverse talent can set organizations up for failure.
How do we become more inclusive leaders?
World-renowned consulting firm, Deloitte, describes the following as the “6 Traits of Inclusive Leaders”:
- Cognizance of Bias: Bias is a leader’s Achilles heel. It is important to be aware of unconscious bias so decisions can be made in a transparent, consistent, and informed manner.
- Curiosity: Understanding that different ideas and experiences enable growth. Leaders must commit to listening to learn — listening attentively and valuing the viewpoints of others.
- Courage: Talking about imperfections involves personal risk-taking. Fear of change is a big destabilizer of DEI efforts. By leading by example and engaging in respectful, but tough conversations when necessary, leaders model the desired behavior. This also includes identifying opportunities to be more inclusive, taking ownership, and engaging others.
- Cultural Intelligence: Not every employee sees the world through the same cultural lens. Seek out opportunities to experience and learn about different cultures and be aware of other cultural contexts.
- Collaboration: Create teams that are diverse in thinking.
- Commitment: Treat everyone with fairness and respect and foster an environment where every team member can be themselves. This can be achieved by modeling authenticity and empowering each other’s well-being.
Truly fostering inclusion requires active, intentional, and continued efforts to promote full participation and a sense of belonging. It involves thoughtful policies and practices, but also the ability to envision and enact new ways of leading. It also means developing a better understanding of how employees and members identify themselves, and ensuring their values are represented in the organization’s mission.
Again, it’s not just about hiring more diverse talent — credit unions need to be explicit with their DEI vision and let this guide their actions. They must create a culture where diversity, equity, and inclusion are woven throughout all levels of the organization and owned by leadership. And, that change doesn’t (and shouldn’t) happen overnight.
To make these changes requires a joint effort (the collaboration and commitment traits discussed earlier) from everyone, starting with leadership and trickling down to the frontlines. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and it is important to understand this is a long-term commitment.
“It must be everywhere, from the grassroots of our communities to the top of our credit unions, or we will not fully serve our purpose,” said Maurice Smith, President and CEO of LGFCU and former CUNA Board Chair.
For credit unions, this is their WHY — to reach, engage, and serve diverse communities. The work of DEI requires certain ingredients to make it sustainable. It requires institutionalized “hard-wiring” of the DEI commitment and data for tracking impact.
Credit unions seeking support and/or guidance on advancing DEI should know there are many resources they can tap into. They can also observe organizations in other industries to learn more about what they are doing and how they are doing it.
Editor’s Note: The Northwest Credit Unions’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force is preparing a set of recommendations and actionable strategies that will help accelerate and enable the work of Northwest credit unions to be the best employer, financial institution, and community partner. Those recommendations will be available in the coming months. For more information, contact Sharee Adkins or Carmen Vigil.