For the past two years, I have attended the a large credit union board of directors conference as part of the delegation of 360 Federal Credit Union, based in Connecticut. Both years I had generally the same experience, I was one of the youngest (likely the youngest!) board members of any credit union delegation, way below the average age. Also, I was one of the few of Latino heritage, and in general there were not very many minority board members. At both conferences, almost everyone admitted the need for recruiting young and diverse board talent to remain competitive, but many were struggling to find and retain such talent.
As a young and diverse board member from a credit union that has successfully recruited and retained such talent, I decided to write this article to share my experiences and help credit unions in this crucial task. I don’t claim to have all the answers and you should get perspectives from others, but my experience can be replicated at other credit unions to improve their chances of success.
First of all, why should credit unions look for young and diverse board members? Every organization needs to be able to stay in touch with the times in order to remain competitive, serve the needs of its market, and grow. In order to do that, credit unions need to know their market, and there is no way to know that market unless they regularly engage in and involve that market in its decision making. According to The Brookings Institute, Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers to become the nation’s largest age group. They are also one of the most diverse generations in our history.¹ Ignoring these population trends will guarantee that eventually every organization that doesn’t adapt will be sidelined by its competition who does, thus gaining a competitive advantage. The statistics also recommend recruiting young and diverse board members. The Boston Consulting Group found that companies with diverse management have 19% higher revenue and 9% higher EBIT due to improved innovation when compared to companies with less diverse management. Recruiting this kind of talent can help keep a credit union ahead of its competition and improve its financial performance!
How should credit unions find young and diverse talent? Instead of waiting for them to come to you, I suggest you go to them! There are lots of different ways you can do this, so the methods outlined in this article are not exhaustive. There are many young and diverse professional organizations that are full of talented potential candidates who are looking for an opportunity to prove and distinguish themselves. A credit union can send representatives (even board members) to these events to meet these potential candidates and hear how they want to be served by a credit union. Also, a credit union can host events in its offices designed to attract a young and diverse crowd. For example, I was eventually recruited because I met the Vice President of Human Resources of 360 Federal Credit Union at a seminar about understanding credit scores. At this event, 360 Federal Credit Union was able to attract a crowd of people to come to one of their offices, meet potential candidates, and even advertise itself to prospective members!
Credit Unions can use other methods like hiring a recruiter, but they can be expensive and often lack experience recruiting young and diverse talent. They can also utilize social media like LinkedIn to advertise board openings. Another method is to task the credit union board members and staff with exploring their networks to find potential candidates. 360 Federal Credit Union has used this tactic successfully to recruit new board members.
In order for any recruitment tactic to work, credit unions need to be willing to talk to and support these potential candidates. We rarely see young and diverse people serving on organizational boards, so the prospect of serving on a credit union board can be intimidating. Credit unions need to be willing to answer their questions, calm their concerns, and show them that they will be supported during their service. Show them that they will be valued for who they are, that their insights and skills matter, and that they are not being used as a simple “token” to fill some kind of quota or to show off. I suggest showing them how the credit union plans to invest in them. Is there monetary compensation involved? What kinds of opportunities are available for education and development (this is especially important if the potential candidate is not familiar with the credit union industry, which few will be)? How will credit union board experience help them in their careers? How is the application or election process run? What should they expect as part of the onboarding process? I would also suggest the credit union consider offering a mentorship opportunity with a more experienced board member. Once these concerns are addressed, the candidate will likely feel like serving on the board would be a good use of their time and that they will be able to make a difference. Failing to do this is a major reason why credit union boards fail to convince qualified candidates to apply or run for board vacancies.
Then comes the next step, of equal importance, which is the process of retaining the young and diverse talent on your board. You need to develop an atmosphere that will embrace and value the unique perspectives of these new board members. For example, many credit unions have struggled to retain board members because they couldn’t come to meetings during the middle of a work day. This might be fine for individuals who are retired, but not for those with typical 9am to 5pm jobs. I suggest making sure board meetings occur later in the day or early evening to minimize disruption to the work day. Credit unions should also utilize technology to allow board members to attend meetings remotely via conference calls or other virtual meeting programs. I have called into board meetings when I was traveling for work, and it has allowed me to contribute even when I am physically far away.
At first, don’t be surprised when a new board member is quiet. They may still be intimidated by being on a new board, especially if they are not familiar with the industry. Take the initiative to reach out to them and respectfully solicit their opinions and feedback in meetings. Maybe even give them opportunities to issue certain reports to the board so that they can practice speaking to the group. Occasionally, schedule one-on-one meetings between the board chair and the new board members to check up on them and see how they are feeling. Don’t let new board members feel isolated and ignored, that is a major reason why they end up leaving. Take their suggestions seriously and make sure their concerns are addressed.
As I mentioned earlier, continue to invest in new board members to make sure they get up to speed. Invite them to join various sub-committees and even ask them if they could see themselves as future board officers. Give them plenty of opportunities to grow and be heard. Sending young and diverse board members to conferences to network and learn from other credit unions is a major way to engage them. There are various young and diverse credit union professional groups, like the World Council Young Credit Union Professionals, that can be major resources to these new board members. Showing them that there are other credit union board members that look like them will inspire them to get more involved.
Recruiting and retaining young and diverse board members is crucial to the long-term success of any credit union. If credit unions take a proactive approach to recruiting such talent, and develop a welcoming culture that values their insights, then they will unlock their amazing potential and get a competitive advantage. Be patient, be persistent, and make the necessary changes, because they will be worth it. Feel free to reach out to me to continue this important discussion.