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One long standing problem with a credit union industry that talks a good game about unity is that credit unions are sliced and diced into too many distinct, special interest segments, each with its own agenda. Credit unions have an organization (and a conference), sometimes more than one, for every credit union, by size, by location, by charter, based on type of CU and its membership, by sponsor, for volunteers, for CEOs, by staff position, or by vendor usage. Just recently some involved with credit unions have concluded that there is a difference between men and women CU executives. And thus another need that must be met. How? Why with a conference of course. At least initially. As most males learn at an early age, there is indeed a difference between men and women. (Viva la difference!) But when it comes to being an effective credit union executive, I don’t see any difference at all between the male and female species. And I for sure don’t see the need for CUNA to create a Women’s Leadership Summit for women only to come together to chat about those perceived differences and what to do about them. Besides, although it is not well known, some of the same women executives who provided the impetus for the Summit Meeting, have for years had their own little “women only, by invitation only” informal group. They move their gatherings around the country with a local female CEO’s credit union taking turns hosting the gabfest. There is no formal agenda, just “the girls” getting together to network about their “unique problems.” But that apparently wasn’t enough. Long before women CEOs of all size credit unions became commonplace, the issue of women needing there own meetings was continually brought up. Many years ago when I was CEO of the Credit Union Executives Society, I succumbed to pressure from some vocal female credit union CEO members to devote a breakout session at the annual convention to women. It would be limited strictly to women and to an agenda that the female supporters would cobble together. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work. For one thing, a rather outspoken female CU CEO from California showed her intense dislike for the idea by literally dragging a male CEO into the session. But the resulting brouhaha was not the main cause for the experimental session falling flat. What doomed it from the start was the fact that the women CU executives in attendance couldn’t find enough to talk about that met the women only criteria. The same thing happened at the Women’s Leadership Summit. Early on, a panel comprised of some of the women in attendance, identified as hot topics such subjects as the future of small credit unions, the importance of political involvement, bank attacks, and board term limits. Those are topics that women would approach differently than their male counterparts? One female executive in attendance made this telling comment: “I was originally opposed to being singled out as a woman, but I have changed my mind.” OK, why? She didn’t say! Another remarked that “women are still at a disadvantage in the business world and until that changes, I support a conference like this.” So a bunch of women getting involved in discussing the same credit union industry issues that they could also discuss at 101 other credit union meetings is going to change that perceived gender injustice? To be fair, several legitimate women issues were brought up at the Summit Meeting. Like the fact that most credit union boards of directors are comprised of older males. That fact alone could reduce the chances for a well-qualified female executive competing with mostly men for the CEO job at that credit union. Then there is the matter of the male spouse being able and willing to relocate to accommodate his wife’s advancement opportunities. And the biggest bugaboo of all always rears its head, namely, the challenge of balancing career and family. But are these few issues (are there any more?) enough meat and potatoes to justify a national Women’s Leadership Summit, one that I predict before long will become still another credit union organization with membership dues, a staff, a newsletter, etc. How crazy can this all get? Look no further than a women executive who actually speculated that there may also come a time when men need their own conference. As one letter writer and a couple of male CEO friends said when hearing about it, “why, to discuss male baldness, or life as a short man, or the problem of not being comfortable with sports analogies?” Does it strike anyone else as a bit ironic that when it comes to financial institutions, women have been far more recognized for their ability than in say the banking industry. When is the last time a woman was promoted to CEO of any bank not owned by her family? Proportionately, there are far more female CEOs managing credit unions than banks. Of course the immediate reply to that comment is it is only because credit unions are generally smaller and these small credit unions will be where you will find the women CEOs. Take a look at the number of women managing multi-million dollar credit unions, even billion dollar shops, and that stereotype will quickly spring a leak. The days where the only way a women could be a CEO of a large credit union is by being with it from almost day one are gone. I have never considered myself a mentor although some have insisted I have fit that description on a number of cases. As I look back, I guess I have filled that role as I have strived to get credit union boards to give equal consideration to female as well as male candidates for a CEO opening. Thank goodness on more than one occasion those boards listened. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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