My whisper to women: Breaking the glass ceiling in credit union executive leadership

If you follow me on LinkedIn, you know I talk a lot about the psychological, feel-good effect that women helping women produces. It is a ripple effect that I hope one day will be immeasurable, as today’s ripples turn into waves.

In 2016, I walked through the doors of Antioch University’s Santa Barbara California campus, seeking to understand more about their upcoming Women in Leadership program. I met one of the adjunct professors there that night. There was something about Kathleen that was as warm and peaceful as Santa Barbara itself. I immediately did two things: First, I applied for the program. Then, I spent the next year and a half being professionally coached by her in her slice of Montecito paradise, becoming more self-aware, and listening to her whispers of wisdom.

Fast forward to May 2023, I listened to Jill Nowacki on the CUInsight experience podcast titled “Future Proof”. She is another inspirational voice and another whisper for me. I immediately felt a pull — an alignment with my professional passion, values, and her company, Humanidei, which lives and breathes all things credit union people. I decided to “future-proof” myself by inquiring about their coaching services. As Debasish Mridha said, “An investment in self-development pays the highest dividends.”

Today, I am humbled and blessed to call Humanidei my professional home. As I support and manage executive searches for our credit union clients, I carefully consider ideal candidates for various roles. Human skills, no matter how technical the leadership role, are of utmost importance in most credit unions today. And yet, I screen candidates and I whisper to myself often, “Where are all the female applicants?”

After more than two decades serving in the credit union universe, I have three whispers for you…

In the bustling landscape of credit union governance, the scarcity of women in executive positions remains a glaring concern. Despite strides toward gender equality, a significant hesitation persists among women when it comes to applying for executive-level roles. This phenomenon, deeply rooted in societal norms, organizational culture, and individual perceptions, demands a closer examination to dismantle the barriers obstructing women’s ascension to the upper echelons of leadership. Additionally, the lack of visible female representation in executive roles serves as a deterrent for aspiring women leaders. Without role models to emulate, women may struggle to envision themselves in positions of power. The absence of relatable success stories reinforces the whisper of self-doubt, making it difficult for women to muster the confidence to break through the glass ceiling. It becomes a vicious cycle, where the dearth of female leaders perpetuates the belief that such positions are unattainable for women. No doubt you have heard this familiar statistic: “Men typically apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women generally apply only if they meet 100% of them.” (Harvard Business Review, August 25, 2014)

My first whisper: Women ~ Leap. Leap now! Apply for that next-level role, even if you feel 60% qualified.

Most female credit union CEOs are concentrated in smaller institutions. I believe allyship and mentorship inside our industry walls are invaluable, and too often ignored. These practices foster an inclusive environment where diverse perspectives are respected and supported, leading to greater opportunities for advancement, collaboration, innovation, and collective success.

My second whisper: To all humans in leadership roles~ See that woman over there who has that spark, that potential? Be an ally. It will be one of the most rewarding roles you will ever have. You will gain the satisfaction of knowing you helped someone reach new heights.

Invisible work is not so invisible for women. The term “invisible work” refers to the often-unrecognized tasks, such as emotional labor and household management. These are tasks performed by women, which are essential for the smooth functioning of society but are not typically acknowledged or valued in traditional metrics of productivity or success. The persistent challenge of work-life balance amplifies women’s hesitation to pursue executive roles. Traditional gender roles still dictate disproportionate caregiving responsibilities, forcing women to juggle career ambitions with familial obligations. The fear of sacrificing personal fulfillment for professional success weighs heavily on women contemplating leadership positions. The whisper of uncertainty echoes as they grapple with the daunting prospect of balancing demanding careers with familial responsibilities. Women are meant to have it all, not do it all. Dan Martell, author of the book Buy Back Your Time says~ “How you use your free time will make or break your success.”

My third whisper: Women~ Outsource those tasks that do not fulfill you. There is a reason I call companies like Instacart and Poplin my personal domestic BFF’s. 

As our credit union industry grapples with the intricate dance between financial viability and community service, the dichotomy of the people-helping-people motto becomes evident. Our industry should be a trendsetter, a front-runner, and an example of gender equality in executive roles. It is time for us to introspect and ensure that the benevolent spirit we proudly proclaim is not just a marketing tagline but a reality that lived within its walls.

Humanidei is here to help credit unions become more inclusive organizations. Whether you are a candidate seeking your next step or an organization looking to introduce more equitable and inclusive hiring practices, please reach out for resources that move you forward.


Contact the author: Humanidei

Contact the author: Humanidei

Jaime Marks

Jaime Marks

A seasoned executor with an entrepreneurial spirit, Jaime brings over two decades of financial institution experience. She honed her skills in the heart of the credit union movement, gaining rich ... Web: Details