A Vote for More Women's Conferences
Do women need their own leadership conference? Mike Welch announced his "no" vote quite strongly in his Sept. 28th column. But judging from the feedback I heard from attendees at CUNA's Women's Leadership Summit in June, most would agree with me that the opportunity to network with other female executives offered exchanges and discussions that probably wouldn't take place in a mixed group. No, we did not spend our time bashing men. But we did spend some time discussing our insecurities with risk-taking, how to approach a male-dominated leadership team or board about a promotion or higher salary, and how to prepare ourselves for moving out of the world of smaller credit unions into the much smaller ring - but with much greater potential - of larger credit unions. While I'm sure men could have offered substance to the discussions and would have been sensitive to any private disclosures made, the fact is that women feel much more comfortable discussing (and revealing) their strengths and weaknesses before their own gender. When I was the CEO of Mazuma Credit Union, we were preparing for staff diversity training and asked employees to complete a survey regarding attitudes and perceptions of the work environment. One question asked whether they perceived differences in how men versus women employees were treated. In an organization that was 85% female, including the executive team, I expected to find the male staff felt some discrimination. However, it was the female staff who expressed that the men were treated more favorably. This really surprised me and after probing more deeply, I realized that men are generally more assertive than women and ask for the things they need or desire - like more money, a promotion, a new computer, etc. Women, in contrast, are more apt to remain quiet and to take what they are given, even if they are disappointed with the results. In our organization, if someone indicated an interest in a position we would try to outline a path to help her or him attain success. If the person could justify a new computer, he or she would probably get one. But often times these things began with a request and the men were more apt to do the asking. Women are afraid of being turned down and often won't take the risk. A fear of taking risks is an issue we women need to overcome and was a common theme for discussion at the summit. I laugh when I hear new fathers of baby girls announce they are going to get a gun to keep evil prey away from their precious offspring, at least until she turns 21. But while I applaud their safekeeping intentions, I also realize that girls learn early on that they are the more vulnerable sex and come to rely on being protected by fathers, brothers, husbands, and even bosses. I am not suggesting this protectionism is necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it more difficult for women to shed their feelings of vulnerability and to take on the confidence that is needed to lead an organization that requires her to be the "protector" instead of the "protected." A women's conference like CUNA's Leadership Summit can help women assess their strengths and weaknesses that come with being female and help them capitalize on the strengths and overcome the weaknesses. If the result is a better credit union leader, then the industry as a whole has gained. And it shouldn't matter to anyone if the leadership growth came from a women's conference. As long as there are sufficient women who wish to attend such a conference to make it financially viable to provide it, I vote for its continuance. Nancy Pierce Retired CEO Mazuma Credit Union Kansas City, Mo.