When I wrote my last article for CUInsight in early May, I was not aware that a modern day Civil Rights movement was on the horizon. As I exited the industry as a full-time employee, I was not sure whether or not I would have anything further to say in this space. However, diversity has exploded into a trending topic in the past two months. Many voices are currently competing for attention, but regardless of the amount being written I want to expand on something I last wrote:
“Serving underserved communities is not DEI work, although it can often be the RESULT of sincere DEI efforts…To do that well also takes diverse internal leadership representation.”
I actually spent the last few months taking a graduate level course called Race in Contemporary America. I did not know the topic of my studies would rise to national attention. One class does not make me an expert on racism in America, because discrimination due to the color of my skin is not my experience. Similarly, one diversity committee or one minority leadership hire does not make an organization equitable or inclusive. I often think and write about DEI from my own experiences with invisible disability. Although this conversation is newer for many, I began writing about it in 2016 before credit unions broadly took hold of the issue.
Decision making is a key indicator of progress in diversity efforts. A commitment to DEI is a commitment to changing authority and decision making structures. What follows are three (non-comprehensive) checkpoints to begin gauging whether your efforts are advancing DEI:
- Board of Directors: Review whether the make-up of your board represents the racial demographics of your membership. If it does not, it is time to find better representation. Many credit unions like to counter this challenge by stating that credit union boards are elected by membership. While that may be true, the slate of candidates is often vetted, selected and presented by existing board members. This mostly leads to perpetuating the same perspectives. If your argument is that your charter is not racially diverse, broadening your organizational perspective by adding decision makers that don’t look or think like you will still provide a competitive advantage.
- Hiring Practices: If your diversity does not extend above a certain paygrade, you are not making progress. If your argument is that you can’t find diverse leaders, there are reasons this might be. It truly is likely to be easier to find a white candidate to fill a slot quickly, due to cycles of opportunity. Prepare and train minority employees for the next level of management if you can’t find external candidates. Second, if you are not getting minority candidates, you may already have a reputation that precedes you. This is an organizational culture issue that you need to fix.
- Product Design: Some credit unions are developing products and services that serve Black and Brown communities without anyone in leadership that understands the challenges faced by the same. A good place to begin is to ask why you want to sell to people you do not want to work with. The second best question to ask is what problem you are trying to solve for these demographics. If you are not willing to face these questions honestly, you may find that your real reasons to serve underserved communities border on exploitative. If you genuinely want to solve social problems, your commitment needs to be to understanding structural racism. Solving these problems requires understanding why they exist in the first place.
In some areas – our personal lives, professional lives, and as an industry – we may have come a very long way. But, let us be careful not to say we have come a long way in the areas that we really have not. If you need additional resources or guidance in these areas, please connect with me on LinkedIn and I would be happy to connect you with organizations or places that can provide support.