Twenty years ago Marla Shepard was interviewed by Credit Union Times for an article (CU Times, May 7, 1990) on the challenges and struggles of female CEOs in the credit union industry.
Today, Shepard still commands her post at the head of the same credit union. In 1990, Shepard was the CEO of $120 million Santel Federal Credit Union in San Diego. Through a series of mergers, Santel has become the $1.8 billion California Coast Federal Credit Union. In her 20 years as a CEO, Shepard said the game for women CEOs in the credit union industry has changed quite a bit.
At the time of the first article, it was very uncommon for a woman to be the CEO of a large credit union, but now the top credit unions in San Diego have women CEOs, she said.
In the 1990 article, Shepard said one of the challenges women CEOs faced was that networking and "rubbing elbows" with other CEOs wasn't as easy for women as men. CEOs often used sports activities, such as golf, to meet, and men didn't always feel comfortable including women in those sports activities, she said.
"I felt a little left out, but I don't anymore. There was a group of credit union CEOs that did things together like play golf and racquetball, and at the time there weren't enough women CEOs to start our own network. I missed having the opportunity to bounce ideas off folks, which happened a lot then since the atmosphere wasn't as competitive as it is now," Shepard explained.
Networking and sharing weren't the only opportunities women CEOs missed on out at the time either. In the 1990 article, Shepard said that on two occasions head hunters contacted her about a CEO position, but she was confidentially told that the board of directors wanted a male. She said her board was proud to have a women as CEO in a time when most were male.
When Shepard was head of Santel, 80% of her employees were female. Now, she said, there is much more of a mix of men and women employees.
One of the reasons Shepard sees for the mix in employees is that as credit unions grew, opportunities were created to hire for more specialized positions, such as a mortgage loan officer, which attracted more men.
"I don't know if I can speak for all credit unions, but it is certainly true for larger credit unions," she said.
For women now, it is also easier to progress up the ladder to a CEO position, Shepard said.
"Women see other women climbing up the ladder to CEO all around them, which is really awesome. There are a lot more women mentors, and the struggle of not having other women to share ideas with has improved significantly."
One of the opportunities for women CEOs to share ideas now is the Global Women's Leadership Initiative, a network that connects women around the world to credit union resources that was started by the World Council of Credit Unions.
Judy McCartney, former CEO of Orange County's Credit Union in Santa Ana, Calif., who retired January 2008, still participates in the Global Women's Leadership Initiative in her retirement.
For McCartney, women's initiatives have always been something she's assionate about, so when the World Council started to discuss forming an international women's group, McCartney joined in despite her pending retirement. Prior to joining the Global Women's Leadership Initiative, McCartney was on the board of Freedom from Hunger, an international group that teaches finance to small groups of women around the world.
"It was remarkable what women could do with small amounts of money even with no education or ability to read or write," McCartney said of her work at Freedom from Hunger. "I also promoted women in management in Orange County's CU. The credit union industry is filled with women, although usually at lower paid jobs at smaller credit unions."
The role women play in the credit union industry has changed over the years, McCartney said, in the aspect of bringing credit unions to every country, but in the United States things have not changed dramatically.
"There are more CEOs in large credit unions who are women. Traditionally, there were 8% women in large credit unions, that number is up to 12%, a 50% increase if you want to spin it, but it is still low," she explained.
McCartney did highlight some of the strides that have been made in the industry over the years for women. She named Stan Hollen, Ed Callahan and Dave Chatfield as examples of CEOs in the industry who promoted women. One of the first women to run a large credit union was Ludelle Murrow, CEO of Provident Credit Union in Redwood Shores, Calif. According to McCartney, she was an innovative leader who started a child care facility at the credit union, which was very forward thinking at the time.
Twelve to 15 years ago, Grace Mayo, CEO of Telesis Community Credit Union in Chatsworth, Calif., started a group similar to what Shepard said she was missing all those years ago. The group, which was for credit union CEOs and senior women, mushroomed into the Women's Leadership Symposium, McCartney said. The symposium now meets annually all over the United States for women CEOs of the largest credit unions.
For the Global Women's Leadership Initiative, the first forum was held last summer in Barcelona.
"Financially, this was probably the worst time to start anything that required donations to keep it going. There was support in spite of the financial problems in the credit union industry. There was support among people in credit unions from vendors to CEOs," McCartney said.
The best part of the forum for McCartney was getting paired up with a woman partner from the other side of the globe. McCartney was paired with a woman named Susan from Kenya who is a single mother of three, a CEO of a credit union and who recently graduated with her master's degree. McCartney is working with her to get her to the United States for the first time for WOCCU's meeting in Las Vegas in July.
Another story from the forum that touched McCartney was from a woman in India named Chetna. She told a story of how she met with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at their request. At the meeting, Chetna only had one person in her corner supporting her idea for loaning money to women who live in the remote areas of India so they can buy gold to use as immediate credit in case of an emergency. Later, she found out her one supporter was Warren Buffet.
Down the road, organizations like the Global Women's Leadership Initiative will continue to help woman pave roads in the credit union movement by creating more connections, McCartney said.
"Only good will come of this group. It is certainly a global world now and through the bringing together of women, there is always a bond created that I believe will create more and more connections around the planet. Sarah [Canepa] Bang, CEO of Financial Service Centers Cooperative, was the first to add international shared branches to the U.S. network, which was a pioneering decision at that time. Hopefully, this will provide a forum to bring some of those types of acts to the forefront."