When I started my career in the credit union industry, I had limited experience with financial services. I had spent a few years in retail and my summers between school years working in the blueberry fields of the Willamette Valley. My life experience had not lent itself to professional development. Over a 20-year career since then, I have learned a few things. I am proud to share them here for other young Latino credit union professionals (or anyone else) who may find these lessons valuable.
Be Authentic: Growing up we used to call this, “keeping it real.”
I remember when I first started my career, I wanted to fit in. I already stood out as the only bilingual person of color at my branch, and fitting in was important to me. I wanted to look, sound, and be like those around me. I wanted to relate to them and feel like I belonged. As I learned and grew in my career, I began to embrace what made me different. My cultural background helped me connect with the community my credit union served, and I truly embraced this.
Trying to fit in is like trying to be everything to everyone. When you understand nobody can do that, then you can be authentically you and begin to connect with other humans in very meaningful ways. It might be the way you dress, the way you wear your hair, or the way you speak, but when you share that authentic you with others, it helps others see themselves in you and it builds meaningful relationships.
Being authentic means sharing yourself with members and colleagues. Many times, you will find shared experiences that build trust and understanding. It also means sharing your ideas and perspectives at work. You might have unique insights that will help serve your members in a way others have never thought about.
Don’t be scared to try something new
Richard Branson once said, “If someone offers you an opportunity, say yes. Then learn how do it later.” This was something incredibly useful throughout my career. Whenever an opportunity presented itself, I always said yes. When I was faced with fear, I would reflect on my parents’ journey to America and the fear they must have experienced as they travelled to a foreign country. To a strange land, to a place where they did not speak the language, where they were expected to work like adults when they themselves were still teenagers. When I think about the sacrifice they made, I lean on that strength to try new things. At first, it was opening new accounts. Then it was helping with loans. It then became financial education and guidance to members and the community. I was asked to help contribute to strategic initiatives at the credit union. Eventually, I was able to participate in local, national, and international leadership opportunities, furthering my credit union education and expanding my professional network. None of that would have been possible if I had said no to opportunities.
Volunteer for credit union workshops, community events, and other outreach efforts. Products and services are what your credit union offers, but what you do as a credit union employee is connect with people to improve their financial well-being. If you are passionate about helping people, find out what your credit union is doing to connect to various communities and get involved! I found my passion for outreach by teaching a Spanish financial education seminar. A young couple who had attended my very first Spanish seminar had also attended a different seminar 6 months later. As I was loading up my car to head home, they stopped me in the parking lot to let me know that they had really loved the seminar and told me how they had attended my first seminar. They were very gracious to let me know that they saw the growth, knowledge and vast improvement in my presentation and had learned much more this second time around. Had I given up after that first presentation, I might not have conquered my fear of speaking in front of crowds.
Find a mentor (like you or not)
I have been incredibly lucky throughout my career to find people who provided advice, guidance, honest feedback and encouragement. That type of mentorship instilled just the right amount of confidence for me to take advantage of opportunities, use critical input for career advancement, and start building my own network.
When I started my career, I did not know any other credit union professionals who I could relate to culturally. This meant learning from my branch leads and branch manager. Then it meant connecting with other Latinx professionals outside of the credit union space. Eventually, I found a mentor who was an ally and was incredibly impactful in helping me see a bigger career outside of retail branch operations. Today, that mentor continues to have a major impact on my career and fortunately we work together daily. She continues to push me and do things I never imagined possible.
Although there is a certain level of comfort that comes with having a mentor with a similar cultural background as yourself, I challenge you to find a mentor who is culturally different. Shared experiences with your mentor are helpful; however, I have also found that a mentor who is culturally different than me has helped me think, experience, and understand myself and how I fit in the credit union space in a way I might not have had otherwise.
Network and Connect with Other Professionals
I have been able to meet some of the most amazing people by simply extending a hand (post-pandemic it has meant a Zoom invite or email). I am happy to say that I am still friends with many of these professionals and we have continued to partner for over 20 years. Extending my network has helped me learn what others are doing in the credit union space, share ideas, and stay connected to the bigger world around me. There are so many networking opportunities to consider: It might be your local credit union chapter meeting, an event hosted by your credit union, or connecting online with diverse organizations such as NLCUP (National Association of Latino Credit Unions & Professionals) or the AACUC (African American Credit Union Coalition). Networking can help you stay connected to other credit union professionals who may serve as inspiration and help you stay involved in the credit union movement.
Here at Humanidei, one of our primary goals is to connect diverse talent to great credit unions. We know that for credit unions to remain relevant, they must reflect the communities they serve. I am reminded of one of my favorite songs by Chalino Sanchez who sang, “Con la vara que tu mides, con esa seras medido,” which loosely translates to “you will be measured by the same ruler you measure others.” For me, this means extending my hand to the young credit union professionals of today to help them in their careers. It means passing on the various advice, guidance and mentoring that was once given to me. So, reach out and contact me. I would love get to know you more, to talk about your career goals, and to see how we can help you get there!