How Credit Unions Can Advance Their DEI Work and Provide Services Diverse Communities Need

Tammy Doles-Roberts will never forget the day a transgender consumer came to open an account at Olympia Credit Union.

“I heard this is the place I need to be,” said the soon-to-be new member.

For Doles-Roberts, CEO, that verified her credit union’s journey to become a welcoming home for all consumers in the community, and for the specific outreach her team had been doing in the LGBTQ community.

While the $49 million asset-sized, 4,000-member credit union had been serving a diverse and inclusive membership base for years, the team took a more intentional approach to learn more from their LGBTQ members and from the LGBTQ community.

“Little did we know, we were already unique,” Doles-Roberts wrote in a 2019 column for CU Management. “The journey we were about to undergo revealed who we have always been, helped us embrace it, and be better at it going forward.”

At the time Olympia CU was expanding its outreach journey, a Washington-based investor group was advocating for an LGBTQ credit union. Through informational meetings with the group, Doles-Roberts and her team became more convinced they were on a purpose-filled path.

“We were rather surprised and shocked to hear about the discrimination they were experiencing,” Doles-Roberts said in a recent interview with Anthem. “We really came to realize there was a group of people that didn’t feel they had a financial relationship or enough services available to them, where they would not be judged or discriminated against. We did community outreach to learn more.”

In addition to ongoing and open dialogues in the community, the credit union provided diversity training to its 16-person staff and Board of Directors. And a former transgender employee was consulted for their important perspective.

One of the actions they and employees recommended, was to change the names on the branch’s restroom doors from “Men” and “Women” to a neutral and welcoming sign that just says “Restroom,” allowing access to any visitor that enters the branch.

Olympia CU also discovered its core system had pronoun ability. If members share that they have more than one name identity, or if they advise the credit union what pronouns they use, the information is noted in the system. That helps employees provide more relevant service that meets members where they are.

An important part of being an inclusive financial institution is also being a community partner. Olympia CU’s outreach work includes support for organizations such as a local nonprofit that supports homeless youth, including many LGBTQ teens who want to feel like they belong. Through a partnership with Capital City Pride, Olympia supports community events, while Pride refers new members to the credit union and assures them that they will be well-served.

How would Doles-Roberts advise credit unions interested in advancing their DEI work as financial institutions?

Invest in time to research and understand the demographics of the communities being served. Provide training so employees and leaders become better listeners. And ask the employees, especially those on the front lines or working in communities, for their input.

Continuing community outreach is also a key.

“Reach out and ask the community you are trying to serve, if they were to become members, what services they would like, and ask what their current financial institutions are not doing to meet their needs,” Doles-Roberts said. “You just start listening, getting involved, hearing, and improving your processes.”

Look to serve communities for the purpose of doing good things for them first and foremost, Doles-Roberts advises, not just  to grow market share. Keep in mind, she notes, that historically marginalized consumers would be very suspicious of a profit-driven motive.

“Make sure your heart is in the right place and that you’re doing this work for the right reason.”

Editor’s note: Olympia Credit Union’s outreach to LGBTQ consumers is an example that credit unions could consider in their “people helping people” missions. In recent months, the Northwest Credit Unions’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force has examined similar potential for the Credit Union Movement. Hosted by NWCUA and the Northwest Credit Union Foundation, the Task Force is led by credit union professionals from across the region who are committed to the principles of DEI. The Task Force has collaborated to identify  DEI-related tools and practices and will soon share a comprehensive resource guide of actionable strategies credit unions could deploy to advance their work as employers, financial institutions, and community partners.

Posted in CU Difference.