Why Not a Women's Conference?
I sat down to write this column and thought to myself maybe I should just let this topic go and avoid any potential controversy given the subject matter, but heck that's not my style.
So WesCorp just held its first-ever women's conference, and a few years ago CUNA held a similar first-ever women's event. I have heard people criticize these events. They say, "why not a men's conference?" or "given the strides women have made in leadership, is this type of event even necessary?"
I don't think a women's conference is "necessary", but then again there are a lot of credit union events that aren't "necessary." Is it good for the industry? Absolutely. It's good because it's about leadership! Credit unions need great leaders! Male, female, black, white, etc., etc.--leadership is leadership and credit unions need it more than ever!
Some might argue if leadership is leadership why break it down by gender. The answer is that doing so recognizes that men and women are very different. Instead of avoiding that obvious fact, a conference on women's leadership embraces it.
Identifying strengths and weaknesses of each gender as it relates to leading an organization may seem a little too Darwinistic for a credit union conference on leadership, but to say there aren't differences that could affect leadership is na?ve. A conference that can highlight traits and tendencies of women that could hurt or help their performance in the CEO position shouldn't be controversial, it should be common sense.
A women's conference that takes an us vs. them (men) mentality of course would be a disaster. That's not what the WesCorp event was about. Do I think there should be some magic number of credit union female CEOs? No. I believe the great leaders will come to the top, male or female.
But the one thing that does concern me about a women's conference is the perception that women are not in leadership positions in the credit union industry. Not true. They are. There are a number of prominent women CEOs of small, mid-sized and large credit unions. Women are outnumbered by men, especially in the large CUs, but people need to open their eyes and look at what's been happening and not live in the past.
Women have earned some very large CU CEO jobs in recent years. This is a progressive industry. The credit unions that have sharp, intelligent, forward-thinking directors sitting on their board are not worried about gender, they are worried about getting the leader who can take them to the next level. Credit unions are in a critical juncture. Credit unions that aren't growing will die out and good leadership can be the difference maker. If there are boards out there that are favoring less qualified CEO male candidates over women candidates, their credit unions won't be around for long.
Women are earning the big jobs everywhere in the industry. NCUA's three-person board has JoAnn Johnson and Gigi Hyland. Martha Fortney leads NASCUS.
Women are leading some of the nation's largest credit unions. There is Simone Lagomarsino at the $3.2 billion Kinecta FCU and Teresa Halleck at the $6 billion The Golden 1 CU.
There are women in league leadership positions: Anne Cochran in Louisiana, Lisa Finley in Oklahoma, Sylvia Lyon in New Mexico and others.
Think back to last year's CUNA GAC. Who stole the show? A woman. Bethex FCU CEO Joy Cousminer's years of outreach in New York were honored to roaring applause.
Women are very active in this industry and they will continue to be so. Will the gap of men and women CEOs shrink? Very likely. Does it have to shrink? Only if it's the best thing for the individual credit unions making these CEO decisions.
Ironically, the one area where lack of women concerns me most is in the board room. Credit union boards are still dominated by dedicated older, white males. These directors should be commended for their willingness to serve, their willingness to accept a fiduciary responsibility for no financial gain. The only problem with boards dominated by older, white males is that's not reflective of membership. Fact: Credit unions have more female members than male members. Not a lot more, but still more. If you have boards dominated by men, it's not reflective of the membership. That's bad for business.
As more credit unions move away from large sponsors and to broader community charters, they need boards that are more diverse and reflective of the areas they are trying to serve. That means more women, more minorities, and frankly more young people. We have all heard the stats about women controlling household spending. Credit unions should wake up to this fact and try to recognize this in the board room. We know 18-34 is the most sought after demographic group; it's time to get more young people on the board.
Back to the women's conference. Is it a good concept? Right now it is a very good concept. Could men do the same thing without facing a huge backlash? Probably not. Would sessions on women and men leadership traits at national trade shows be well attended? Darn right they would be. --Comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org