It seems a shame that the number of women in CEO positions still makes news. Case in point: the leading daily newspaper in Utah recently reported on the number of women serving as CEOs of credit unions in that state. In case the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune haven’t noticed, women are also holding responsible positions as airline pilots, firefighters, trade association executives, doctors of every specialty, lawyers, mayors of major cities, U.S. Senators, CEOs of corporations of all sizes and types, CPA partners, volunteer boards, lead architects, and many more positions once thought to be exclusively in the male domain. Why should it come as any surprise that so many women are credit union CEOs, have been for years, and (look at the numbers) are doing a great job serving their members? What is surprising, however, is that so few females have been able to burst through the glass ceiling in the banking industry in Utah and elsewhere. According to the Tribune article, “Women’s work-holding top jobs at credit unions,” 62 of Utah’s 134 credit unions, or 46%, are managed by a female CEO. The article also pointed out that in comparison, none of the 36 banking companies operating in the state has a woman CEO. However, the author of the piece hastens to add that “women do hold numerous high-level positions within those organizations.” To which I would hasten to add, take a look at all the women in key positions on credit union executive management teams. Probably a far higher percentage. The article also included an opinion from the head (a man of course) of the Utah Bankers Association (UBA) as to why capable and qualified women make it to the top in credit unions, but not banks, at least in his state. Here’s how UBA’s Howard Headlee put it: “Diversity is a priority for banks as it is with credit unions. But too few women meet the stringent qualifications boards of directors and banking regulators demand in top-level banking executives at publicly held companies.” Headlee is amazing. He managed to insult and put down woman, credit unions, and regulators all in one quotation. Among other things, he seemed to be suggesting that credit union women got where they are because their credit unions wanted to show diversity even at the possible risk of safety and soundness, an added slap at CU regulators. Maybe I’m reading between the lines, but there also seems to be an inference that credit unions are such Mickey Mouse operations that anyone can manage one, even a women. Makes me wonder why state and national banking lobbyists fear such Mickey Mouse credit unions as competitors so much that they want to make the Magic Kingdom off limits to consumers? If the female credit union CEOs in Utah take Headlee at his word, they are in positions for which they are not qualified. Women are credit union CEOs, not because they are women, but because, in fact, they are qualified to manage financial institutions of any type and size. No where in a credit union CEO position description does it list as one of the qualifications that the applicant must be a male. It doesn’t say that in bank CEO job descriptions either because to do so is against the law. But it is obviously implied. Yet, all is not quite as rosy as it may seem for women working in credit unions. Realistically, some female CU CEOs are where they are because they either helped organize the credit union or came on the scene when the credit union was just getting on its feet. They grew up with their credit union. But to do that, the fact remains that they needed to continually meet the qualifications of the top job just as much as if they came in cold from the outside. Over the years, I knew and respected a great many women who grew their credit unions from a few million dollars in assets to a top 300 ranking. Betty, Louise, Frances, Ruth, Dot, Joyce, Lu, Pat, Bernie, Eloise, Ava, Dorothy, Jean, Audrey, and many, many more I’ve long admired were all able to do this because they were qualified to handle the changing demands of the task at hand. Today, more women are being hired or promoted from within by still predominantly male boards to fill the CEO slot of CUs of all sizes, even those in the billion dollar range. Today, despite the article in the Utah newspaper, it is no longer automatically front page news when a woman is named CEO. Instead, it is just another example of the most qualified individual being selected regardless of gender. Sadly, however, some female credit union CEOs are their own worst enemy. There are still those who are willing to accept lower pay than a man would receive in the same position. There are still those who send the wrong signals by cooking dinner for their boards before a board meeting. There are still those who feel they have to work twice as hard and twice as long to prove that they can do the job as well as a man. There are still those who have an inferiority complex despite an exemplary track record. Is it any wonder then that only a few years ago a board member at a credit union managed from day one by a very capable woman about to retire told me that “now that the credit union has become so large, running it is a man’s job.” She was replaced by a man. Eventually, so was he. But fortunately, these are the exceptions. Today there is not a credit union or banking industry CEO job in the country that couldn’t be just as capably filled by a qualified woman as a qualified man regardless what the Headlee’s of this world may think. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

Peter Westerman


Credit Union Times

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