Women in CU Leadership Concentrated at the Bottom
A simple mention that there should be more conversation about leadership issues for women in the credit union industry set Filene Research Institute and World Council of Credit Unions' Global Women's Leadership Network on a path to dig deeper.
What they found is that the promise of female leadership often touted as superior at credit unions, has room for improvement.
In the report Women in Leadership: Obstacles and Opportunities, although women constitute 70% of credit union employees in the United States, only 53% of all federally insured credit unions have female CEOs and only 20% have female board presidents.
In addition, while 66% of credit unions with less than $50 million in assets have female CEOs, only 14% of credit unions larger than $1 billion have female CEOs.
“The biggest challenge we’re finding in our research is that the highway to top leadership in business presents women with many more off ramps than men,” said Ben Rogers, research director at Filene. “Many of them are voluntary, which is as it should be, but others are subtle and have to do with culture and this morass of tacit expectations that slow down women who want to get to the top.”
He added that as an industry, credit unions are not doing everything they can to support success at the largest, most complex credit unions.
“One of the myths we tell ourselves in credit unions and in business more broadly, is that women have the same opportunities as men,” said Rogers. “That might be true in an Equal Employment Opportunity Act kind of way, but culturally we are not yet to the point where we are as comfortable being led by women as by men.
“And many women steer themselves away from opportunities they should be embracing. Those are the kinds of things we need to change culturally.”
With three daughters ages 27, 25 and 20, the issue of leadership development of women in the workplace hits home for John-Paul Morgante, vice president human resources at the $1.1 billion Credit Union of Texas in Dallas.
“I’ve been in human resources for 30 years and in credit unions for two, and our job is to invest in and get a return on the talent we have in the organization. If there are any factors that hinder any individual from advancing it needs to be addressed,” said Morgante.
“If the number of female credit union CEOs decrease as asset size increases we have to ask the question why that gap exists. I was in manufacturing so this is not unique to just credit unions,” he said.
Morgante is one of a handful of men who planned to attend Filene's Women in Leadership Colloquium at the University of Southern California on June 19, which will explore leadership expectations and opportunities for male and female employees.
Besides the timeliness of the topic and not being able to beat the commute, Gary Perez, president/CEO of the $391 million USC Credit Union in Los Angeles, has a personal stake in learning more.
“Women have made extraordinary contributions to the growth and development of USCCU and have historically held senior positions at our cooperative, yet only one of five C-level seats is currently held by a woman,” Perez said. “This suggests that I have somehow failed on an unconscious yet fundamental level to effectively recruit and develop women in our organization.”
The report revealed some of the entrenched challenges women confront range from occupational segregation, which sees many professional women working in places like HR and marketing instead of finance and operations where senior leaders often come from, to educational self sorting as early as high school and college, which starts women on different paths. In addition, women are less likely to negotiate and there are different perceptions of men and women leaders by those led, even when both produce similar results.
Morgante said it's not just a women's only issue.
“The question is, are you serious about the talent you have? If your organization is somehow creating barriers that prevents some employees from advancing resulting in a homogeneous organization then you miss out on the value diversity offers,” he said.
At USCCU, Perez has noticed the male to female applicants for recent C-level positions has been disproportionately skewed toward men.
“I feel it represents a personal and professional shortcoming that's been wearing on me and we’ve got to figure this out,” he said. “The interest in developing female talent goes so far beyond righting a multi-generational wrong, it represents a selfish opportunity for credit unions to develop the talent in our ranks for the good of our respective organizations and to strategically position the industry as being uniquely committed to a critical demographic powerhouse.”