Meet four women who are crushing stereotypes as credit unionassociation board chairs.

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They have made bold moves to further the credit unionindustry and serve their communities.

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women to watch in the boardroomThe SocialChange Agent

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Deyanira Del Rio has one tip for every credit union boardmember: Think and care about the greater world beyond yourself, thecredit union's walls, friends, family and community.

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“Credit unions should be committed to examining whether and howthey are making a real difference for their members and in theircommunities,” the board chair of the National Federation ofCommunity Credit Unions and the $46 million, New York City-basedLower East Side People's Federal Credit Union, said. “We need to domore than position ourselves as nicer, more affordable alternativesto banks.”

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The idea of being obligated to think of solutions that worktoward social justice and change for everyone, not just those inour little corner of the world, has been Del Rio's compass.

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As co-director of the New Economy Project in New York City,her passion for issues in the areas of immigration, communitydevelopment and tackling poverty typically outweighed any interestshe had in the banking or finance world. Or so she thought. Joiningthe LESPFCU board in her early 20s helped Del Rio recognize theconnection between access to capital – or the lack thereof – andthe New Economy Project's mission to promote community economicjustice and the creation of safe, healthy, thriving communities forall.

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“Find something you truly enjoy learning about and are willingto spend your personal time doing, unpaid,” she said of boardservice.

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Given the time staff members spend managing and developingboards, she said anyone who is even contemplating joining a boardshould be sure about their commitment.

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“Your motivation for board service shouldn't be about boostingyour resume, but rather being a part of something you support andcare deeply about,” she said. “Anything less is a disservice to theorganization.”

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The overlap of the fundamental core values of the Federationboard and New Immigrant Community Empowerment board has presentedDel Rio with opportunities to influence issues that matter most.Her board service represents the intersection of her work, passionand values, she said.

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She applauded the Federation staff's initiatives, from therecent announcement of pioneering a new type of amortizingsecondary capital product, to furthering its investments to helpcommunity development credit unions grow and broaden their impact.The Federation is also in the process of developing a sharedbanking platform for CDCUs, which Del Rio said could be a gamechanger for small credit unions. Another source of her awe andpride has been the Federation's longtime leadership on immigrantinitiatives, and its advocacy for the preservation of small andstruggling minority credit unions, which she believes may be achallenging process yet defining for the credit union industry.

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She urged credit unions to seek out underserved communities –new immigrants, many of whom are low-wage workers, are just a fewof the many people who need access to what credit unions canprovide. Plus, they represent a huge but often overlookedopportunity.

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“Stop viewing these populations as inherently risky,” shesaid.

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For example, the hesitancy many banks and credit unions have toserve undocumented immigrants is often based on assumptionsstemming from the concerns related to the Bank Secrecy Act. So tomitigate risk, some financial institutions offer prepaid cards butperhaps not open checking accounts, mortgages or small businessloans to this demographic.

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“Anti-terrorism financial regulations are not directed at lowwage workers,” Del Rio said. “Credit unions, as cooperatives, needto find ways to serve these community members equitably, not createtiered services based on immigration status.”

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One of LESPFCU's largest loan portfolios involves limited-equityhousing cooperatives that provide affordable home ownership to verylow-income people in New York City. The credit union's field ofmembership includes individuals in those buildings around the city,as well as the cooperatives, themselves. While providing the loanscan be challenging, it represents a huge business opportunity andhelps preserve a critical form of housing in the city.

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Del Rio believes that as credit unions look ahead, theirstrategic planning sessions should address the following questions:What is the change they are trying to create in the world and howwill they get there? And, what are their short, medium andlong-term goals and strategies?

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“In the daily grind, it's so easy to focus on long lists oftasks and lose sight of the bigger mission and vision,” she said.“I think it's motivating and clarifying for staff and board to havea shared vision of what the institution is trying to achieve, andreal benchmarks to track progress. There are obviously a host ofnuts and bolts questions to tackle in strategic planning, but atheory of change can be a valuable tool to get started and to thinkfresh.”

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Over the years, she has worked on both the local and nationallevel to promote economic inclusion in immigrant communities,combat lending discrimination and advocate policies that expandfair banking access. Her credit union advocated for financialreform by testifying in support of the CFPB before the HouseFinancial Services Committee. Del Rio acknowledged that in theshort term, there may be issues and regulatory challenges for somecredit unions.

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Though its stance is not a popular one, the credit union tookthe long-term view that an effective CFPB will ultimately benefitresponsible financial institutions and the communities theyserve.

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“We can't reflexively resist all regulations, nor alignourselves with the very banks that caused the financial crisis,”she said. “Our work is about creating real economic opportunity andpromoting economic justice, and we embrace reforms and rules thatcrack down on predatory and destructive lending.”

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She added that much of the existing CFPB resistance seemedideological.

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“After all that's happened in our financial system andeconomy, I find it troubling to hear credit unionssounding off on the CFPB and perhaps unwittingly making the samearguments as banks and even payday lenders on major consumerprotection issues,” she said. “I don't think it reflectswell on the credit union movement.”

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Up next: The Educator

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The Educator

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women in the boardroom Rose Rangel Generations FCU

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Three was a magic number for Rose Rangel when she became boardchairman of the National Association of Credit Union Chairmen.

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During her first failed run for the position, Rangel learned theimportance of lobbying, speaking up and getting more involved.During her second run, she came closer to her goal, missing thevote by just two points. The near miss spurred her to try again,and this time, there was a solid why behind her bid: Furtheringboard education efforts.

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Rangel credited her persistence and tenacity to a long line ofstrong women who defied the roles that were dictated for them atthe time, including her mother. The women in her family werebusiness owners, owned rental property, served as midwives whendoctors in the area were not readily available, and were very vocalabout the needs of their families and community. She was raisedwith the ideals of hard work, family, staying true to values, loveof country and giving back to the community, which would alwayskeep her focused and humble.

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As small business owners, her parents were longtime credit unionmembers, and Rangel always planned to join one once she wasemployed. When her work with the City of San Antonio opened a doorto actually serve on the board of Generations Federal Credit Union,she jumped at the opportunity. During her tenure as board chairman,Generations FCU has grown to $550 million in assets and 50,937members. Her credit union volunteer experience has included servingon various committees from supervisory to governance, as well asserving several CUSOs.

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“Never in my life did I think or even project that I would beserving as board chair of Generations Federal Credit Union,chairperson of the NACUC, be a member of the World Council ofCredit Unions Global Women's Leadership Network, and board memberof the International Pan American League and other communityassociations,” she said. “Never limit your potential because of thefear of failure or any self doubt.”

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While she is cognizant of the educational and networkingopportunities that come with serving on boards, for Rangel it'salways been about helping provide younger generations with a widerrange of opportunities in education and career development, as wellas the freedom to choose their purpose in life.

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“My parents taught me that education is the one thing you takewith you wherever you go,” she said. “They also stressed theimportance of having the confidence to act on what you think isimportant. If you believe in it, don't give up. You may start thewalk alone but you'll find soon enough others will join in andfollow you.”

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This advice has served her well, particularly when she led thecharge to create a scholarship program for smaller credit unions toattend the NACUC Leadership Development Seminar. It took two yearsto create a process, appoint a selection committee, keep the NACUCboard active in supporting the effort and raise funds to make it areality. Regardless of the obstacles, Rangel remained focused andestablished the Norma Benson Scholarship Program, which was namedafter a remarkable woman who provided great leadership to theNACUC.

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“What this organization is about is educational opportunitiesand I can't tell you how rewarding it was when it was realized andpresented to the first recipient, a chairman from Virginia StateUniversity Federal Credit Union,” she said.

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She added that NACUC, also known as The Chairmen's Group, is theonly organization in the credit union industry that offers aneducational experience from credit union board members rather thanexperts in the field. The ability to learn from other boardmembers' real-life experiences has been extremely valuable to itsmembers.

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“Credit unions continue to become more complex as well as theskills required to lead them,” Rangel said. “In today'senvironment, the luxury of addressing challenges one at a time nolonger exists. The reality is there isn't enough time to react fastenough because the financial environment changes so quickly andCEOs and boards need to anticipate them before they actuallyhappen.”

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She said boards must be open to continuously learning andadapting to shifting membership needs. At the NACUC, progress hasbeen made in leveraging technology to better serve members,developing a new membership marketing plan, revamping its website,and adding new programs such as the NACUC sponsorship program andchairmen's circle.

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“The ability to listen is as important as the ability to speak,”she said. “Are we paying attention to what's going on in the worldoutside the credit union movement?”

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When it comes to talk of board diversity, she said it's time tolook beyond the visible differences of race, gender and age andarrive at a definition of diversity that encompasses much more. Sheadded that people of varying backgrounds, cultures and beliefsystems bring with them a range of work styles, thought processesand new perspectives. The issue of diversity is something thatshould be addressed in every aspect of the industry and consideredin every phase of management, including recruiting, onboarding,professional development, leadership training, feedback andmeasurement, she said. She suggested creating new ways for peopleto connect, such as by providing a venue for networking andmentoring and letting their feedback become part of the growthprocess.

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“Really, we all need to assess if our association ororganization's purpose and vision continues to be relevant to ourmembership and the industry,” Rangel said. “That ties into beingable to retain our existing members, and provide currentissues/educational formats that will attract new members, and ofcourse keep up with our budgetary needs. We'd do well to recognizethat innovation and relevance continue to grow and no vacuum willhold it together.”

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Next up: The Financial LiteracyChampion

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The Financial Literacy Champion

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women in the boardroom

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Juli Lewis has always been drawn to helping people in need andadmitted working in the banking field wasn't even on her careerradar.

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She began college with a full academic scholarship and wascertain about having a career in the medical field. That first yearwas an eye opener for Lewis. She goofed around her freshman yearand not only lost her scholarship, but passed out while observingher first surgery. While she realized the medical field was not theright fit for her, she still needed to cover her tuition, so Lewisapplied for a job at the credit union she'd been a member of sincebirth. One of the employee benefits there was full books andtuition coverage.

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The plan was simple: She'd go back to college, earn her degreein social work and quit her job. But when graduation day came, thecredit union asked her to stay on and develop its youth outreachefforts.

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“I got my degree to work with kids and families, and they toldme there were people I could help there,” Lewis said, who is theNational Youth Involvement Board chairman and member relationsconsultant at the League of Southeastern Credit Unions. “By thattime I'd already grown to love the industry. The lesson I sharewith everyone is to always keep an open mind and be ready whenopportunity knocks.”

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As a recent CUDE graduate with 20 years of experience in thecredit union industry, Lewis said her passion for making adifference has been reignited. She wants to leave the world a muchbetter place, or at least make a noticeable impact and ignitechange.

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Lewis calls the NYIB a best kept industry secret, and she andthe board are eager to position it as a credit union partner. Shesaid the organization includes an amazing network of credit unioneducators and is one of the biggest resources for credit unionslooking to engage the next generation of members and staffers. Inher first year as board chair, Lewis and the executive committeehave focused on strengthening partnerships and building awarenesswhile crafting a strategic business plan that lays the groundworkfor new long-term partnerships.

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She added that for the NYIB to be relevant and innovative, theboard had to question and reevaluate everything. This effort hasresulted in working more closely with the National Credit UnionFoundation to explore collaboration opportunities with likemindedgroups. In addition, plans are under way to also reach out toleagues, foundations, and the Cooperative Trust and other youngprofessional groups. The NYIB has even added a non-voting seat onthe executive committee for a young professional to help furtherboard diversity.

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“If you are truly interested in board diversity, then you haveto be willing to stretch your reach beyond your usual zones, lookfor innovators and build a structure so that you have a staggeredturnover,” she said.

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She added that the rules of personal and professionaldevelopment also apply to organizational growth, and cautionedagainst getting stuck in a rut or comfort zone.

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“Just because you have been in one place for a number of years,growth takes movement,” Lewis said. “Has your credit union beenlooking in the same places or advertising open board seats throughthe same channels? If so, then you are more likely to continue toattract the same demographics.”

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Before recruiting for open board seats, she suggested creditunions consider changing their branding a bit. She said too often,there's a perception of stuffiness associated with board service,which leads potential candidates to eliminate themselves from therunning right off the bat because they don't believe they fit theimage of a board member.

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“Generally, most people don't think of innovators, doers andtake action types as board members,” she said. “Changing thebranding of the board as more inclusive or highlighting that itsdirectors are purpose-driven may help break through any perceivedbarriers. For me, serving on the NYIB board fulfilled this need Ihad of wanting to make a bigger difference through financialeducation.”

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For those interested in serving on a board, her advice issimple: Be bold, do your research and be ready to be turned down,but don't let that stop you from applying again. Also, be sure youare joining for the right reasons, she cautioned. For Lewis, if shefeels a connection and a need is expressed, she knows she's meantto explore that opportunity.

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“If you aren't thinking about the organization you're servingoutside of the monthly meetings – whether in the shower, when yougo for a run or before you sleep at night – then it's the wrongfit,” she said half-jokingly. “If it's not a cause you believe in,you're not doing yourself or the organization anyfavors.”

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Up next: The Advocate

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The Advocate

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women in the boardroom susan streifel

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While gender balance in the credit union industry is still verymuch an evolutionary process, Susan Streifel said she is encouragedby the progress that has been made.

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Now in her final term as CUNA Board Chair, the president/CEO ofthe $95 million Woodstone Credit Union in Federal Way, Wash.believes that as more women are promoted to the corner office andappointed to boards, they in turn will help sponsor and mentorothers.

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“Those of us who are serving or have served must reach back toour sisters and offer our support, guidance and leadership,” shesaid. “Always be prepared to step into a leadership role when theopportunity presents itself.”

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She was first introduced to credit unions while working inretail in 1975, when her boss encouraged her to open a credit unionaccount. She later worked at a credit reporting agency until aco-worker told her about an opportunity at a credit union. As shelearned about the credit union philosophy and discovered thebusiness is designed to improve members' lives, she wasmoved.

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One incident that really hooked Streifel was early in hercareer, when a woman came in wearing dark sunglasses to hide theblack eye her ex-husband had given her. Her abusive ex had alsoblocked her from accessing money. The credit union not only calleda lawyer for her, but also taught her how to balance an account andbudget so she could go back to school. Eventually, that womanbecame an executive assistant.

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Streifel took immense pride in being part of an organizationthat allowed an employee to find out what people needed andactually help them. In addition, while working as a supervisor ofshare checking at the $13.6 billion BECU in Tukwila, Wash., the CEOsaw something in Streifel and asked her to attend a board meetingon his behalf.

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“You can only imagine the initial reaction when the board wasexpecting the CEO and here this supervisor walks in instead,” shejoked. “I was terrified but I had on my poker face and made sure Iwas well prepared. The experience served as a great training groundfor board dynamics.”

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Inspired by what was happening with the National YouthInvolvement Board and within the international credit unionmovement, she began thinking about ways to help even more people.As a CEO, she said her staffers are her members as well, and herrole is to serve them and help them find their passion. ForStreifel, nothing is more fulfilling than helping others identifyand live up to a potential they may not have even recognized forthemselves.

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“My dad taught me that if you want to make a difference you needto be in a position of influence, and that board service is a greatway to influence the direction of an organization,” she said. “It'struly an amazing learning opportunity especially when you have apassion for the organization.”

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She said serving on the 24-member CUNA board has been one of hermost rewarding experiences. Despite what many may assume, she saidevery single board member serves with great integrity and holds himor herself to the highest standard of accountability, which has ledto robust yet respectful board debates. She added that zero rubberstamping takes place, and that everyone has a voice and is activelyengaged in taking steps to ensure the relevancy of theorganization.

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That has meant making tough decisions that may not be popular.She said no one wants to hear about trends such as a contractingcredit union system, league mergers and estimates that there willbe less than 5,000 credit unions by 2025, but that the challengesmust be discussed. She added that in strategic planning sessions,the board is responsible for being mindful of what's happening inthe world in order to determine where the organization needs to goto serve future needs. For the national trade association, thatmeans raising awareness to ensure that collectively, credit unionshave a higher ranking in the marketplace.

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“One of the risks worth taking is to know how to say no and tostand behind what you believe in even if it's not popular,” shesaid. “You can't be afraid to have a voice or disagree.”

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