Verity CEO Tonita Webb Sheds Light on her Credit Union Journey
April 27, 2021
Earlier this month, Tonita Webb took the reins as Verity Credit Union’s President and CEO, following the retirement of former CEO, John Zmolek. Webb came to Verity from Seattle Credit Union, where she worked for the past 15 years. Most recently, she served as the credit union’s Chief Operations Officer and Executive Vice President.
Throughout her career, Webb has been breaking barriers, beginning with her service as a security police officer in the U.S. Air Force during a time when very few women occupied the role. She is the first woman and member of the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community to lead Verity.
Anthem recently sat down with Webb to learn more about how she got her start in the credit union industry and what this new journey with Verity means to her.
Anthem: You’re originally from Southeast Virginia — what brought you to the Pacific Northwest?
Webb: The Air Force brought me here, originally. My husband and I were so east coast — Washington state wasn’t even on our radar. If someone said “Washington” to us back then, we immediately thought of Washington D.C. So, we arrived in Tacoma and lived here for four years, and then we got orders to Key West, Florida. When we decided to get out of the military, we were so intrigued by our time in the Pacific Northwest, so we moved back and made it our home. Now we’ve been here for 22 years!
Anthem: What drew you to starting a career in the credit union industry?
Webb: It was actually by chance — by great chance. When we returned to the Seattle area, I had three job opportunities — all in HR. One was at a local bakery, one was at Seattle Credit Union (back then it was called Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union), and one was with the Seattle SuperSonics. In my family, we are huge sports fans, so working for the Sonics seemed like a no-brainer. However, it wasn’t an easy choice for me. I told my husband that I just had a strong gut feeling about the credit union, and it was the best decision of my life.
Anthem: You’re passionate about uplifting underserved communities and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. What role do credit unions play in this effort?
Webb: I had always belonged to a credit union, but it was just another bank to me — I didn’t really understand the history. When I started working for a credit union, I began to understand why we exist. I realized, “Oh, wow, we were born to help undeserved communities!” What I am really excited about is this renewed energy about who we are as a Movement and how we create space for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Especially right now, when our communities need us more than ever.
Anthem: What does it mean to you to be the first woman and first person of color to lead Verity Credit Union?
Webb: It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly. I want the focus to be on why I’m in the business in the first place, which is to help folks. I also have a personal responsibility to talk about my journey and the racism and sexism I have experienced over the years, because it’s important that people who look like me and have had experiences similar to mine understand it’s possible to get through it.
Verity’s values so align with my own, and I’m so proud and happy to bring my lens to the conversation, to listen to and learn from everyone else’s lens, and see what we’re able to create going forward.
Anthem: If you could go back in time, what piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Webb: Trust your instincts, give yourself grace, and shut out all the noise — don’t let other people define you. When you’re the “only” or the “first” person to do something, you’re going to hear a lot of negative narrative. But you have the choice of whether or not you’re going to believe that narrative.
Another important piece of advice I have is this: Don’t be afraid to get help. This is especially important for BIPOC communities, because we’re often taught that asking for help or getting therapy makes us seem weak or lesser. That’s absolutely not true. I didn’t get here by myself — I got here by asking for help, by saying, “This bothers me, I don’t know what to do about this.”
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length.
Posted in Leadership.