Anyone who has ever set foot in the credit union ecosystem knows that women in this industry are remarkable. So many women rock stars in the space are quite literally changing the world – one member at a time. But, more than that, they’re inspiring an entire generation of future CU leaders – lifting, mentoring, encouraging, and laying the framework for greater things ahead.
Now, as someone fairly new to the space myself, I can say this with fresh perspective: These women’s stories aren’t being told as often (or as loudly) as they should be. In order for people to take up a torch and fan the flame of progress, they’ve gotta first see the spark. So, this being Women’s History Month, it seemed a fitting time to offer an article that adds a bit of kindling to the cause.
I had the privilege of sitting down with four of the most brilliant, driven, fiercely compassionate women in the CU industry to discuss what women bring to the credit union movement.
Sharing Our Stories & Learning from Our Past
JRF Consulting Services founder Julie Ferguson (CUDE) believes that, when it comes to women in the CU space, “We need to hear their stories. We need to learn. We need to be inspired… to think about – who do I know that’s making a really big difference, and how can I invest in them and others by sharing that story?”
Julie isn’t alone in her passion for getting these stories told. Merry Pateuk, Senior VP of Industry Engagement at PSCU, is an advocate for learning from those who came before and highlighting those making a difference today.
“I really believe that if we understand where we came from and can really understand our past,” says Merry, “we can make better decisions going forward.”
She also believes more solid recognition of the women that have been so active in the industry is long overdue. “There are so many powerful, strong titans that we need to recognize – whether they’re the sung heroes or the unsung heroes.”
Ok, but WHY does it matter so much. Anne Legg, Founder of THRIVE Strategic Services, has some thoughts on that. “The credit union industry is awesome and—to propagate more of this awesomeness—we need to learn from each other,” she says. “We can learn from others and gain confidence from their accomplishments, saying ‘Oh I did some of that,’ or ‘That gives me a great idea!’ or ‘You know what, I want to talk to her about something.’ It allows us to push it forward and pay it forward.”
Women Inspiring Women: Why We’re Better Together
Then there’s Nanci Wilson (CUDE), Marketing & Community Engagement Officer at University FCU. If you’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with Nanci, it won’t surprise you in the least that—when it comes to discussing women in the space—she’s a big fan of the word “moxie.” And she believes empowered women empower other women.
“Once you see that someone can take their purpose and passion and make magic happen in the industry,” says Nanci, “you want a part of that potion. You want a part of that magic.”
Much of that magic, in Nanci’s opinion, comes from women being authentically themselves – taking their true passion and putting it to work.
Merry Pateuk agrees. The women who have inspired her most in her career all share a common thread. “They’ve had a passion or some type of self-interest,” she says, “and have turned that self-interest into a shared interest and helped to unite us all in a common objective and really lit the spark for the good of the order.”
Julie Ferguson adds, “I think we’re all trying to be the best versions of ourselves, and many of us do that by being exposed to other people and hearing new ways to do things.”
Pillars In the CU Space
Ok, that’s all fine and dandy – from a general perspective, right? But I bet you’re wondering if I can offer you some solid names of women who’ve made a real difference in the industry. Yes, ma’am! Indeed, I can.
While speaking with these women, there were certain names that were brought up again and again – a real testament to the impact one person can have on professionals nation-wide.
Of course, Dora Maxwell and Louise Herring were listed as two of the fundamental starters in the movement. Then there’s Luci Ito, Jean Yokum (who recently passed away), and Renee Sattiewhite, whose organization—the African-American Credit Union Coalition—has helped the industry navigate social unrest by, as Merry Pateuk puts it, “Taking a topic that is more difficult to talk about and opening the doors on it.”
And every, single woman I interviewed lauded the contributions of Gigi Hyland. “She’s a connector,” says Julie Ferguson, “It’s her superpower.”
Positive Change: By & For Women in The Industry
To state the obvious, it’s been an eventful couple of years in the world, and women in the CU space have been busy, busy helping to drive positive change.
Nanci Wilson, in addition to her many other roles, serves as Leader of the Sisters Society for North and South Dakota (part of the World Council of CUs), where she’s seen how big a gap there still is in gender equality in the financial industry. “Bridging that gap and seeing the phenomenal women that are blazing trails before us,” says Nanci, “That really inspired me to want to be an important part of this movement.”
Merry Pateuk believes women “bring a different flavor” when it comes to tackling issues at hand. And they’re not slowing down. “DEI has long been a part of the credit union industry,” she points out, “but there’s so much more that we can do. We’re not resting on the status quo.”
From financial inclusion, technological advancements, and pandemic relief efforts to ushering in a younger credit union audience and building communities across the country, CU women are at the helm.
Feeling properly inspired? I hear you! Speaking with these women left me ready to change my corner of the world.
If you’d like to help highlight more women like those discussed here, may I suggest you take a look at the first ever WOW (Women On Work) Contest currently underway. Sponsored by CRMNEXT, CU Sol, and America’s Credit Union Museum, the contest is dedicated solely to recognizing and celebrating inspiring women in the CU ecosystem. And all four of the women I interviewed for this article just so happen to be esteemed Judges for the contest.
Submissions are being accepted through May 6th. Click HERE for more details and to nominate.
Here’s to credit union women carrying the torch, fanning the flame, and ensuring the CU mission continues to burn bright!