Balancing Gender in the Credit Union Workplace

By Lynn Heckler, EVP, Chief Talent Officer for PSCU

Women’s Equality Day is celebrated on Aug. 26 each year. It commemorates the 1920 adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote and has been celebrated in the U.S. since 1973. While much progress has been made in the area of gender equality since that time, digging a bit beneath the surface unearths some telling trends.

The bad news

Here are some global stats, based on research conducted by Filene, to consider as it relates to gender parity:

  • Women generate 65 percent of consumer discretionary spending, but their presence in the economy and representation in leadership roles remains unbalanced
  • Women are 20 percent less likely than men to have a formal bank account and often lack access to savings, credit and other financial services
  • The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap will not close entirely until 2186

When it comes to the credit union industry, some progress has been made, but not enough. Women are still very under represented in senior leadership positions within the industry, and the disparity becomes especially apparent when you look at credit union asset size. In the U.S., women make up 70 percent of credit union employees, yet only 53 percent of all federally insured credit unions have female CEOs and 20 percent have female board presidents.

The good news

Credit unions were founded on the cooperative principle, and nondiscrimination is a tenant of that principle, making credit unions inherently more likely to be receptive to ideas surrounding gender parity.

The credit union industry is more progressive in this area than many other industries. Credit unions were the first to loan women money without a male co-signer over 50 years before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was signed by President Nixon in 1974. Fifty-three percent of credit unions today have women CEOs. While this is skewed toward smaller credit unions, it is still much higher than most industries. A large number of credit union CEOs – male and female – are slated to retire within the next five years. The time is right to consider how to systematically develop a strong pipeline of female leaders that are ready to move into those open CEO roles, as well as backfill other leadership positions.

Finally, the talent shortage is not getting any better. There are simply not enough workers to fill the vacancies that will be created in the coming years as baby boomers continue to retire.

The solution

Many of the reasons women have stalled in the credit union industry are consistent with corporate America. They often show less aspiration and initiative when it comes to professional advancement because they are trying to balance all of the other priorities in their lives. Women sometimes have different experiences at work than men. As a result, women are opting out or choosing not to advance moreso than their male counterparts.

Research shows that gender balanced teams have better business outcomes when it comes to engagement, productivity and retention. Gender parity in the workplace should be a priority on the agenda not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it represents a huge business opportunity.

Improvements are not going to happen on their own. Here are four ways the credit union industry can encourage and expedite change:

  • Get informed – Educate credit union staff and your board about the need and business case for gender parity.
  • Do your homework – Gather intelligence about the differences in how men and women think and operate, then use it to inform your decision making.
  • Raise awareness – Start a conversation, and engage male counterparts in particular in that conversation.
  • Implement a strategic plan – Establish an actionable plan and put things in place to help accelerate women in leadership within your credit union. Institute policies that value inclusiveness. This can and should disrupt some of your traditional practices like hiring, promotion and board recruitment.

There are organizations and resources out there to help. The World Council of Credit Unions’ Global Women’s Leadership Network is dedicated to addressing and facilitating gender balance among leadership positions within the credit union industry. During its recent conference in Austria, women from around the globe came together to advance credit union women in leadership. PSCU is one of the sponsors of an executive readiness summit being hosted by the Global Women’s Leadership Network in Chicago this November. The summit will promote the advancement of women by focusing on the industry’s pipeline problem. PSCU also has a strategic plan in place that incorporates gender equality initiatives

If we are to have any hope of closing the gender gap before 2186, it will require bold moves. It will take effort, initiative, resources and commitment. The credit union movement by nature has a philosophy very much aligned with promoting and allowing women to thrive in the industry. Perhaps more so than any other industry, credit unions are well positioned to affect change in this area, and we would be foolish not to.

Lynn Heckler is responsible for the functions that define PSCU’s culture and employees’ work experience. She joined PSCU in 2001 and has over 25 years of experience in human resources management. In 2015, Lynn was recognized with the SHRM Florida Professional of the Year Award.