Bell-Bottomed Boards Bode Disconnect With Members
If your board members owned eight-track cassette players, remember the moon landing and use Touch of Gray, Jim McCormack thinks you may have a problem.
Henry Meier agrees. So does Crissy Ortiz. They also agree it could demand some tact for a CEO to suggest the board is out-of-synch with today’s membership demographics.
McCormack, president/CEO of the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association, often meets with boards.
“Many of them–not all–are straight out of the ’50s and ’60s,” he said. “Many joined the credit union because of their workplace. It was a whole different workplace at that time, and demographics have changed. The credit union has expanded because of SEGS and community charters. The board may no longer be representative of the membership as a whole.”
But where are the gaps? Who is missing from credit union boards? Latinos, blacks, women, young people?
“All of the above,” McCormack responded. “Women are a little bit better represented, but they’re still a ways out. The ones who have been successful in getting diversity on boards have actually gone out and become active in recruiting. Otherwise people are never approached and asked. Too often they’re not proactively seeking young people, Latinos, people of color.
“We have a major effort in Pennsylvania to attract young professionals. We want younger people to become more involved in chapters and on credit union boards. But they’re not being approached.”
McCormack suggested there are negative consequences when a credit union board doesn’t reflect today’s demographics, especially when the credit union holds a community charter. The credit union needs to mirror the ideas and values of today’s population. He applauds many marketing departments for reaching out to incorporate the views and needs of the entire membership and community, even though the board may not be diverse.
The CEO, he continued, needs to make the board and the board chair aware of the need for change and the fact it simply makes good business sense. Governance training and coaching from an outside source can help. So can swapping ideas with other credit unions. If credit union A discovers credit union B is gaining a lot of young members and its board reflects that, it starts the board at credit union A thinking about diversity.
Henry Meier, associate general counsel for the Credit Union Association of New York, also sees board diversity as an issue with many boards offering a very different profile than their own membership, much less their market as a whole. He points out he is not speaking officially for the association, but he sees that lack of diversity as a barrier to growth.
“We need younger people. The Latino population is growing. On the one hand credit unions are member-owned cooperatives. However, we often don’t have a board that reflects this,” Meier noted.
Credit unions shouldn’t be singled out for criticism, he emphasized. Many boards, not just those at credit unions, lack diversity. Credit unions actually deserve praise for openly discussing the issue.
One approach he mentions is term limits–making sure the nominating committee does not recommend someone who has already served two or three terms. Meier believes succession planning needs to be emphasized, placing responsibility on board members themselves.
He also figures common sense indicates if a board doesn’t change, the credit union won’t adopt new ideas. For example, if board members aren’t active on Facebook, how receptive will they be to the credit union’s participation?
As for the CEO’s role, “I would hate to be in a CEOs position on this,” Meier said. “There are some great people on boards. Ultimately, the CEO can bring up the topic of board diversity. Board members as a group need to have this discussion.”
He likes the idea of an outside expert, perhaps at a board retreat, raising the issue of board diversity.
Crissy Ortiz, executive director of Optimal Talent Solutions in Charleston, S.C., often fills that role. Optimal Talent Solutions is a management and human resources consulting group wholly owned by South Carolina Federal Credit Union in North Charleston.
“It is widely known there is an opportunity to increase diversity in our industry, and its governing bodies,” she indicated. “I don’t believe it accurately reflects our membership. Most organizations recognize that a variety of perspectives and professional skills are essential in this day and age. It definitely needs to be on the credit union radar.”
Everyone wants to have a voice and be valued, she continued. Take advantage of community events where you can engage a desired demographic. Make certain your recruitment efforts take place in appropriate locations. Expose people to various roles so you’re not just throwing them into top positions. An advisory committee can serve as a feeder position to the board of directors.
But what difference does it make if the board doesn’t reflect membership demographics?
“It has a huge effect,” Ortiz stated. “It’s absolutely more difficult for them to make appropriate decisions. We need products and services that are accessible to everyone. Diversity should be woven into all aspects of the organization.”
She noted that for more than a decade South Carolina Federal, with 144,000 members and 430 employees, has focused on diversifying the credit union’s top leadership. She believes that is paying off in terms of workplace excellence.
As for the role of a CEO, “CEOs must be firm in their belief diversity will lead to a stronger, healthier and more sustainable organization. Diversity-conscious CEOs must be able to make a case to those who don’t share that same perspective.
“It’s a critical and challenging role. Whenever there is some type of change involved there will be a level of resistance. It’s going to touch all phases of the business, whether that’s increased engagement or lower turnover which leads to a savings on recruitment efforts.”
In a scheduled presentation at a college to an audience that will be largely black and female, Ortiz is going to outline the types of careers available at credit unions.
“A lot of it is education. If we can engage that younger generation, whether it’s through internships or simply showing we have the things they enjoy, we’re going to get there by ensuring we have those groups represented within our organization,” she said.