Lift as we climb

It was two or maybe three years ago, I was attending a women’s leadership breakfast where we heard from a panel of women leaders who shared their insights on being a woman in a leadership position. They all shared stories on how they got there and what they’ve done to continue their career growth. Overall, it was a great conversation and very inspiring. During the open discussion section of the breakfast, an attendee asked the panelists to share how they have helped other women, and specifically women of color, advance in the workplace. The silence in the room was heavy – too heavy. As each speaker thoughtfully reflected on their answers, it was clear that though the question was directed at the panelists, the room was also filled with furrowed brows as they tried to recall an instance in their own professional careers. There were feelings of shame and also some very real aha moments. The panelist’s answers ranged from ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ to ‘I’ll be honest, I haven’t and I really appreciate you bringing that to my attention.’ I’m paraphrasing these answers but you get the gist.

I saw this as an opportunity to share my thoughts and despite my shaking voice and hands I stood up and shared from my experience in supporting other women and women of color in the workplace:

  • Share your opportunities: If you’re asked to contribute to something or be a part of a project and know that someone else who may not have the same opportunity as you can do just as well – share it! You can both participate or you can pass the opportunity on to them. I’ve done this with colleagues, peers, and employees.
  • Learn to say a person’s name correctly: It takes minimal effort on your end but to the person who has had their name mispronounced or misspelled their entire life, this is huge. I recently saw a post from Damneet Kaur on LinkedIn. She described people continually and unforgivingly mispronouncing her name, often making light of it by saying things like, “Oh I’m going to butcher this name…” I’ve seen and heard this in the workplace too. People say things like, “Can I just call you ____ because I’ll never be able to remember how to say it?” Take the time to show someone you respect them and want to ensure you’re saying their name correctly.
  • Redirect a conversation when a woman is interrupted, spoken over, or whose idea has been claimed as someone else’s. Saying things like, “Actually, I’d like to hear more from Katie before she was interrupted,” or “That’s a good point and thank you for bringing that up as a topic to discuss Fatemeh.” These are assertive and of course the work environment you have will ultimately depend on how you’re able to discuss these but hopefully you can push past the “politeness” and get to a place of assertiveness because that’s where change happens.
  • Create your own network of women if you don’t already have one! That women’s leadership breakfast that I mentioned above…that was created by myself and a few other women in the area that felt a need to connect on a deeper level with professional women. I still cherish those relationships today and the conversations that we had.

I don’t bring up these examples to be self-congratulatory because in all sincerity these are not groundbreaking or earth shattering things I’ve done. My point is, I didn’t have to sacrifice my own advancement and my career was certainly not stalled or slowed because I did these things. Honestly, it mostly went unnoticed except by the women I was supporting.

A May, 2021 study recently conducted by CUNA, found that 51% of credit union CEOs are women compared to 3% at banks. Yay right? Yeah, kinda. The headline is great and per usual, credit unions are ahead of the curve, but the study goes on further to note that:

  • Among U.S. banks and credit unions between $1 billion to $5 billion in assets, 13% of credit union CEOs are women versus only 2% of bank CEOs.
  • At both banks and credit unions, women CEOs are relatively more common at smaller institutions.

There is no doubt that we are taking steps forward in the right direction, but I’d say we still have a long way to go to ensure women (especially women of color) achieve equality in the workspace. The thing is, in my very humble opinion, it doesn’t take a monumentous action to lift someone up as you climb. Opportunities are present every day, you just have to be watching for them.

Note: The term Lift As We Climb was originated by Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954). She was a suffragist and civil rights champion who recognized the unique position of Black women in America.

“Lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long … Seeking no favors because of our color nor patronage because of our needs, we knock at the bar of justice and ask for an equal chance.” — Mary Church Terrell, 1902

Jen McFadden

Jen McFadden

Jen McFadden is the Director of Marketing at She crafts CUInsight’s marketing strategy and oversees brand identity, campaigns, and other marketing efforts. She began her credit union ... Web: Details