Credit Unions: Beyond Black and White?
Since our country was founded 240 years ago, the leaders of our government, businesses and industries have been led by white men as an overwhelming majority. You can trace the leadership of women and minorities in those same categories to just decades, and in some cases, a few years ago.
Ursula Burns, for instance, became the first African-American female CEO in the country in July of 2009. This fact, combined with racial tensions and rioting in Ferguson, Mo., Madison, Wis., and Baton Rouge, La., as a reaction to police shootings in the past couple of years, has caused one credit union leader to push the issue of diversity in the workplace into the light.
Ronaldo Hardy, Southwest Louisiana Credit Union's president/CEO, recently said, “It's about making sure that we create environments in our organizations so everybody feels included in the experience.”
Hardy was named the leader of the 17,000-member Southwest Louisiana CU this past fall, when he said, “Through our work to encourage financial independence, we hope the Lake Charles area will recognize that we are a mission-focused organization with radical and strategic ways to be proactive and engaged with the community.”
Along with his credit union leadership duties, Hardy is also the pastor at Love Alive Church in Baton Rouge, La., as well as a speaker and consultant.
In an interview with CU Times, Hardy, who is African-American, said he believes it's time to have an uncomfortable conversation about workplace diversity in the credit union industry.
“Being part of a minority category, I actually feel the effects of diversity in our organizations,” Hardy said. “In the credit union industry in particular, you do a scan of the different conferences we have and you really do look at our board rooms and our executive teams – we have an issue in this area.”
That issue isn't lost at the NCUA. The NCUA's Office of Minority and Women Inclusion was set up as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to be responsible for assessing the diversity polices and practices in federally-insured credit unions.
The OMWI's most recent report to Congress in 2015 stated, “While NCUA's new hires are more diverse, an analysis of overall workforce data has not been a significant increase in the diversity of NCUA's workforce overall. Consequently, NCUA is making significant and aggressive adjustments to the agency's long-term diversity and inclusion strategy.”
The NCUA pointed to three areas of focus:
Promoting the business case for diversity and inclusion;
Providing unconscious bias training to leaders and hiring managers; and
Focusing on intentional inclusive leadership for managers.
Hardy understands that sometimes people are scared to even bring up the topic of workplace diversity. And he said that has a lot to do with the culture that's been built inside the credit union.
“If the organization isn't open-minded to candor, then it doesn't create an environment where people can be expressive about how they feel,” Hardy said.
There are a number of cases, especially outside of the credit union space, where Hardy's observations appear to be true.
Uber recently released its workplace diversity report after a series of scandals caused the company to rethink its corporate culture. The report of the tech company revealed an overwhelmingly male workforce with the largest ethnic group being white.
In recent months, the company has been rocked by sexual harassment scandals, a CEO caught on camera profanely arguing with an Uber driver and reports from within the company that describe a dominate, white, male bullying culture. Currently, the company is going through a full investigation into its hiring practices in an attempt to reset the workplace culture. Because, as board member Arianna Huffington put it in an interview with the New York Times, “The company will no longer hire brilliant jerks.”
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly's show is facing its own culture crisis with a series of reported alleged sexual assault claims that have been settled for millions of dollars. Advertisers have been pulling out of the show – some permanently and some “until the workplace culture at Fox is fixed.”
According to publically filed workplace diversity reports, Uber's workforce is 64% male and 36% female, and the largest ethnic group is white at 50%. To compare, Google's workforce is 69% male, 31% female and has a 59% white workforce. Facebook is 67% male, 33% female and has a 52% white workforce. Apple is 68% male and 32% female with a 56% white workforce. And Intel is 74% male and 26% female with a 50% white employee base.
Taking it one giant step further, Iceland is morphing workplace diversity and gender pay equality into one legal issue. Iceland's parliament introduced and passed a bill that would require companies to prove they offer equal pay to all employees. According to a translation of the bill, it “would prohibit any discrimination not just on gender, but also race, religion, disability, occupational disability, age and sexual orientation.”
Businesses in Iceland with 25 or more employees “must undertake a certification of their equal pay programs,” according to Thorsteinn Viglundsson, Iceland's minister of social affairs and equality. Iceland's government hopes to have the plan in place within five years.
What is of importance in Iceland is how they got to this point. More than half of Iceland's Parliament is filled with female members. According to government statistics, women account for 80% of the board members in Iceland. Compare that to the United States where 19% of board directors for S&P 500 companies are women.
According to Catalyst, a research firm on women in business, the 19% is actually an improvement from the stagnant 17% number that held for multiple years. Researchers at Catalyst believe the Nordic countries are setting a new tone for U.S. companies’ representation.
“I do think that all of the activity that's happening elsewhere is casting light of the question of, ‘Where are all the women on the boards in our country?’” Brande Stellings, vice president for corporate board services at Catalyst, said.
For an industry as small as the credit union space, Hardy believes credit unions can take some simple steps forward to increase a more diverse workforce and board membership, starting with committing to an open-door policy. “Many credit unions say they have that policy, but they don't have the culture and compassion it takes to make it effective,” he said.
They can also find the right person for the job. “Many managers and executives argue that they hire the best person for the job,” Hardy said. “But if I’m in that scenario and the best person never looks like me – it's still communicating that I’ll never be the best.”
The NCUA and Hardy are just two examples of credit union leaders and organizations trying to equalize what has historically been unequal.
As the year progresses, CU Times will be taking a closer look at workplace diversity issues inside credit unions.