Gender Diversity Is Not a Diversion
My husband and I have recently become enthralled with Netflix's House of Cards series with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright playing, initially, the House majority whip and his outwardly devoted wife. But you know from the start they have bigger plans.
Through media leaks, backstabbing and arm-twisting of his wife and colleagues, Spacey's character, Frank Underwood, becomes vice president of the United States. His wife, Claire, realizing he's not actually going to help her with a project for her clean water nonprofit, makes a deal with the devil, a lobbyist who formerly worked for Frank, to get the job done. She's two-faced and twisting plenty of arms herself. My husband loves Frank Underwood's calculated cunning. Claire: She's a bitch.
What evokes that visceral reaction that he admires Frank's strategic ruthlessness but Claire should be eviscerated for it? Evolution? Culture? My husband is not a sexist. Just like many of you, he's a good person. He can handle me, and I’m certainly no damsel in distress. He’ll even tell you I can handle a jigsaw and parallel park better than him. Still subconscious double standards exist.
The credit union community is more gender diverse than many industries. Filene Research Institute released a study, Women in Leadership: Obstacles and Opportunities, earlier this year, which states that two-thirds of CEOs at credit union with less than $50 million in assets are women. However, in the $100 million to $500 million range, the figure is only 20%, and at more than $500 million, the stat is just one in eight credit union CEOs are women. Globally, male CEOs dominate credit unions of all sizes. Then there's this directly from the April report: Women comprised only 41% of credit union senior staff in 2012 despite making up 70% of the credit union workforce in the United States.
The reasons for this vary. Certainly many women make legitimate lifestyle and family decisions that they feel they can't or don't want to balance with a career. Filene's April 2014 study noted that fewer women aspire to senior management. But it also found that employers push men and women in stereotypical directions that lead women to areas of the business that are not considered senior management track departments.
The statistics don't need to move closer to 50-50 out of a sense of fairness. Diversification is not an equal rights issue, but a business continuity issue. Continuity in the sense of prosperity and the fact that there will not be enough qualified Gen X men to fill the spots vacated by those who will be retiring over the next decade. According to a University of California-Davis report, among the 400 public companies in California, the top 34 firms with the greatest gender diversity at the senior management level earned three times more revenue and 50% higher profit than the average company in the study.
In order to move toward greater equality and prosperity, we must acknowledge and educate. Part 2 of Filene's research series is coming out next month, Credit Union Women in Leadership International Research Series Part 2: Attributes and Challenges. Filene is hosting a colloquium to discuss the results of the next survey on June 19. As of this writing the event had 68 registered attendees, only four of who are men and one is a professor the University of Southern California where the event will be held.
Women's issues are not just women's issues. They are your business issues, your daughters’ and your wives’ issues. It can be uncomfortable for men to address the issue of gender. I applaud the men at Filene like Mark Meyer and Ben Rogers tackling this issue. Some male executives might be afraid of saying the wrong thing so they play ostrich, but Filene and the handful of men attending their colloquium are forging ahead to better understand the future of the workplace, leadership and how it can improve credit unions.
As Rogers commented, “If you’re not aware of what the data says, then it's easy to put it aside.” If it's not in your life experience, it's easier to turn a blind eye.
I grew up in a lily-white town, and I’m uncomfortable discussing race. I make myself do it when appropriate. Maybe more than occasionally, I stick my foot in my mouth, but I learn from each experience. Being uncomfortable is how you grow. Now shove your feet into some Jimmy Choos so you can keep them out of your mouth.
Sarah Snell Cooke is publisher/editor in chief of CU Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.