DEI: No more nonsense, the time is now! A top down strategy!

Wow, if you’re anything like me than you’re likely thinking that 2020 and 2021 are years that will forever go down in the history books. Years that forced us to pivot in more ways than I can count. Now after a couple of very unusual years you’re trying to predict what 2022 and 2023 will look like – best of luck when looking into your crystal ball!  

As we navigate through this new world, one thing that is for certain, ignoring DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) will leave you at a long-term strategic disadvantage or worse yet, irrelevant and obsolete. Unfortunately, for those of you who thought DEI was a fad and going to go away as you took a back seat “wait and see” approach – it is not! DEI is not political movement or conspiracy that will pass rather it’s about leadership and ensuring diversity of thought in order to successfully lead in a new world. As a leader in this crazy new world of ours, it’s time to think about diversity of thought and DEI as strategic pillars and core competencies that can drive us forward or seriously hold us back.   

I’m a millennial. My generation and those younger than me do not believe diversity, social responsibility or flexibility are optional items and if we don’t see these values being demonstrated then we go somewhere else who aligns with our values. There is injustice in this world and we expect organizations we use, are members of or are employed by, to be actively improving society. This is not fiction; this  has been demonstrated in all kinds of studies and means that a lot of organizations need to step up.       

As a leader that believes diversity, equity and inclusion is the answer to “people helping people”, I believe all credit unions need to do their part. When working through DEI, here are some important tips to remember: 

  • TOP DOWN APPROACH (this is all in capitals because it is really important folks) – DEI must be driven from the top down. CEOs you cannot delegate this duty away and you must ensure your team is on board. The entire executive team being 100% behind the organizational efforts cannot be understated!
  • It’s 2021 – inclusion is really important! My favorite quote of 2021 really drives this home,  “If you are not being intentionally inclusive,  you are being unintentionally exclusive.” (Jill Nowacki, Humanidei)  
  • If your CU is anything like Dover Federal then DEI will likely start as an internal “team” concentration with a lot of focus on your internal human capital operations. When going through this journey, many on our team had our eyes opened to some of the serious inequities that exist in our communities and made the decision to double down on our efforts to combat injustice and inequities. We’re financial cooperatives, my credit union friends. If we can’t help with financial inequities in home ownership, financial literacy, organizational diversity (and it is needed at the executive levels as well) and the list goes on – then who the heck can???
  • If you’re asking … where do I even begin? The answer is simple: Somewhere, anywhere, but do something. Here are just some suggestions on things you might think about starting with: 
    • Consultant – If you have the resources, then hire a consultant. This was one of the best decisions I ever made as a CEO. I’m not the smartest and as a white guy, I thought a little help with direction wouldn’t hurt anything.     
    • DEI Training – Inclusive leadership is really important. What actions will you take to drive this?
    • DEI Certification – As the CEO, I was the first member of our executive team to be certified in DEI using the CUES/Cornell program. This has now been rolled out as a requirement for our entire executive team. The course was an eye opener and will help us all lead in a new world. As I said earlier, this is a top down approach. If the executive team is ignorant to the topic and uninvolved, there will be trouble.
    • Create a DEI Council (CEO = must be on and active!) – A diverse group from all levels of the organization.  
    • Create a DEI Ambassador – We created a position to work across the organization and work with various stakeholders in order to drive DEI organizationally. It has worked really well as DEI has become part of our identity.   
    • Create Interaction Safety Guidelines
    • DEI Council Charter 
    • Conduct Voice of the Employee Focus Groups – These need to be really safe places in which team members can share their feelings.  
    • External Financial Equity Task Force – Get leaders in your communities involved in providing feedback. We have received some very valuable feedback from our task force.  
    • 12 Month Goals – Through your DEI Council set initial goals for your DEI program. Think deep and honestly when thinking through these goals.  

The list of possibilities for what your DEI journey will look like are endless. The above is just some of the items that Dover Federal has worked through/implemented and your journey could look entirely different. The important part is that you get your journey started.  

As you work through your planning and budget processes, I encourage you to think big in how you can drive DEI in your organization and community. What products or services can you create to help fix some of the inequities that exist around us? What specific actions will you take?

As banks attack us for our tax exemption left and right, now is a time that all credit unions need to step up and demonstrate our ability to improve society. Now, possibly more than at another time in our history credit unions working collectively to fight inequity can truly demonstrate “people helping people”.

Chaz Rzewnicki

Chaz Rzewnicki

Chaz Rzewnicki, President/CEO of Vibe Credit Union. He started working at Credit unions at 16 in his high school co-op program. As a life long CU advocate Chaz loves ... Web: Details