Education, Flexibility Improve Board Diversity
According to the D. Hilton Associates 2014 Board Survey report, the average credit union membership is approximately 57.8% female and 42.2% male.
However, women comprised only 16.4% of board chair positions.
The survey revealed that credit union boards are still dominated by men. More than 84% of credit unions participating in the survey said women take one-third or fewer seats on the board. Almost 7% of respondents had no female board members at all.
Rose Rangel, chairman of the National Association of Credit Union Chairmen, said she's observed improved gender, ethnic and age diversity among volunteers attending her organization's conferences over the last 25 years. She also questioned whether a board must mirror a credit union membership's existing race, gender, age and occupational diversity.
“There is a very thin line between being inclusive and promoting diversity,” she said. “Credit unions should make good faith efforts to recruit and encourage all kinds of community members to serve on boards.”
Governance and nominating committees should seek qualified candidates from all races, genders, ages and affiliations, she said. Credit unions should also seek volunteers that represent the cooperative's future membership, she added, not its legacy or even current common bond.
Recruiting volunteers, especially young ones, requires credit unions to find creative ways to accommodate career and family demands.
Rangel said her credit union, the $550 million Generations Federal Credit Union in San Antonio, always had an ethnically diverse board because of the Texas city's diverse population. Generations FCU has also purposely recruited female volunteers for decades, and male volunteers served as mentors to females back when she first volunteered in the 1980s.
Times have changed, she said.
“Volunteer diversity in the financial and business world recruited men for top positions because of their standing positions in the community, main bread winners in families and their educational opportunities,” she said. “All that has changed as more educational opportunities have opened up for those seeking career mobility and financial growth.”
Currently, four of the credit union's current nine board members are female, and Rangel chairs the group.
Despite its success recruiting women and minorities as volunteers, Rangel said Generations FCU has also changed with the times to attract young volunteers. It is in the process of implementing an associate board member program that allows volunteers to serve for only one year. Younger generations shy away from long-term commitments, she said.
“They will do one or two years because that's what their time allows,” she said. “The program lets them become part of the board. They don't have voting privileges, but they can provide ideas and new perspectives, and work on projects or ad hoc committees.”
Specifically, Generations FCU has sought out young business owners who will enable the credit union to understand the needs of entrepreneurs and improve its member business lending program, while also providing the volunteers with financial experience.
Young volunteers also face greater demands at home – they’re often raising young children and working long hours to establish their careers, she said. Many credit unions have retirees on the board because they have more time to offer.
“You can work around all that,” she said, adding that Generations FCU allows board members to attend meetings via conference call or Skype.
“It's not only easier, it's the wave of the future,” she said. “A lot of people don't like change because it's scary. For the longest time, our board fought using electronic board packages, and now we have iPads and use them everywhere and communicate that way. Either you change with the times or the times change you. Accept it or step down. I think that's very hard for some board members because they’re used to having it their way but it's not like that any longer.”
In 1990, before H.R. 1151 expanded field of membership rules, board diversity was limited by a credit union's common bond, which was typically a single sponsor employer. However, according to strategic consultant Susan Mitchell, that made recruiting volunteers easier.
“It was very much a religion in 1990, people volunteering to change lives and help colleagues,” she said. “When I look at boards today, we have a huge leadership transition taking place. We need new blood in the industry; age is a problem. However, we’re not seeing the same group of passionate folks who see this as a social commitment.”
Mitchell said volunteer compensation may be necessary for some credit unions to recruit young and diverse volunteers.
“What I see in the future is a higher level of expectation and engagement, more education and the potential for some kind of recognition or reward, from pay to additional benefits packages you could put together for board members,” she said.
Volunteer training is also an issue, Mitchell said.
“Back in 1990, credit unions had more committees,” she noted. “Volunteers could learn about the credit union through participation on loan, marketing or credit committees. We’ve worked hard to streamline governance – we don't want to go back to all those committees. But, credit unions also need to vet and train board members. In the past you could just show up at a meeting and learn, but these days you might have to talk to a regulator or be interviewed by the press. The aptitude has to be there.”
Angel Luis Audiffred, 37, chairs the supervisory committee at the $13 million Bethex Federal Credit Union in New York. He was recruited by the once troubled credit union after serving on the board of the much larger $2.2 billion Municipal Credit Union, where he was the youngest director in the history of the cooperative.
He said young volunteers can bring a much needed dynamic to credit unions.
“You’re always much more confident when you’re naïve,” he said.
When Bethex FCU was struggling financially, board members left the organization because nobody wanted to be on a ship that was sinking. Not only did Audiffred agree to volunteer at the credit union, he joined the supervisory committee – which he now chairs – because the credit union was struggling with compliance.
“People who are younger than the average board member can contribute new ideas the status quo considered silly or irrelevant, and get people thinking new again,” he said.