The diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) confluence reflects an inimitable powerhouse of magic, repeatedly ignored, attacked, untapped, and unheard. Do you agree? Our movement is certainly not homogenous – we’re built on the beliefs, desires, hopes, and dreams of so many – though equity-adverse practices, intentional or otherwise, continue to dominate our business efforts, and our respective cultures. After all, are we not accepting of the processes in which differences are accepted, even championed?
Although it often seems credit unions are quick to voice their acceptance and support of DEI, in following the flow of observations and research on the actual business of DEI, there seems to exist a perceptible gap between what organizations say and what they do. Credit unions appear to understand the benefits of the why and the what, but fail in actual strategy, implementation, and practice of the who and the how.
So, what is good DEI strategy? How in the world can credit unions ensure action is taken? Víctor Miguel Corro, CEO at Coopera Consulting explains:
A good DEI strategy pushes organizations to be a mirror of the community around them. A reflection of social norms, ethnicity, and acceptance of these are elements of a relevant organization. A good DEI strategy involves buy-in, explanation of the WHY, and ultimately that the HOW is not a straight line or a check-the-boxes exercise. Beware also of self-anointed ‘experts on DEI.’ Credit unions that don’t know where to start often need outside help. Checking your consultant’s track record, clients, and trajectory in the space (length of time) is important. If you see folks jumping on the DEI bandwagon—beware of opportunism. If you start a DEI effort that fails because of advice based on platitudes and citing other people’s work—you will be harming your organization. Worse yet, this may create institutional inertia and resistance . . . a fast track to irrelevance in the marketplace.
What are a few straightforward action items, then? Some things our shops can be doing now? Daniel Marquez, credit union advocate and development educator says:
How do we share perspectives in an inclusive and equitable environment? We begin by creating those environments and steer clear of bias leadership perspective of ‘routine.’ Invite folks to engage in equitable conversations. ‘Are the folks impacted or potentially impacted that we are making a decision for present, included, and adequately represented?’ If the answer is no, then follow up must happen to progressively move forward with positive momentum and structured sustainability. Provide tips for conversations, ice breakers, and ongoing communication for departments and teams with diverse personalities and/or cultural or societal differences. Ask yourself if everyone that NEEDS to be represented IS represented.
I agree with all. It’s imperative to focus not on high-level organizational strategy, but more specifically on individuals and on teams. Awareness, internal committees, and programs are grand, but do not necessarily change how people think or act. We must remember that at the heart of the DEI strategy, it’s about shifting our behaviors and mindsets by building DEI into the talent lifespan and by empowering culture through procedure, action, and change. Saying and acting are two very different things.
Encourage individual curiosity, too. Education on history, multicultural data in the industry, etc. are invaluable efforts. Hold a mirror to your shop and ask yourself, “Are we inviting other voices, other life experiences into our culture?” If you’re unsure where to begin, reach out to other credit unions and industry organizations that have experience with DEI initiatives or otherwise.
Without question, it takes time, discipline, and a real commitment to the effective building of an inclusive culture within your organization. Remember that these initiatives align with credit union values, credit union philosophy. DEI can truly be a differentiator, delivering not only humanistic strength but also competitive advantage as an industry by, according to CUNA President and CEO, Jim Nussle, “…[continuing] to reach and better serve an increasingly diverse population.”
As Víctor mentioned, conversations like this are not meant to become checklists, but rather launch-points, as Daniel says, to move forward progressively with structure and positive momentum. And, as the Grand Master Yoda says, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
A special “thank you” to Víctor and Daniel for their compassion, thoughts, and assistance in writing this article.