As first seen on CUInsight.com.
By Miriam De Dios Woodward, Global CEO
Co-Author Víctor Miguel Corro, CEO Coopera Consulting
Among credit unions looking to expand their positive impact on the community, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices are gaining traction. The practices make a lot of sense for financial cooperatives, given their collective people-helping-people mission. However, just because DEI is a logical pursuit for credit unions doesn’t mean it’s a simple one.
Among the complexities to executing a holistic DEI strategy are the individuals responsible for taking the practice from ideology to action. Whereas DEI may once have been considered the responsibility of a single employee or department, the industry now understands it’s an ongoing pursuit that must be weaved into the fabric of the credit union.
At the same time, employees often find it difficult to identify their unique roles in accelerating DEI. Unless—and sometimes even if—they hold a supervisory or department-head position, team members can struggle to understand how to contribute. This is especially true within credit unions that are still solidifying their DEI work.
The Three-Pronged Approach to Employee Engagement in DEI Strategy: Discover. Understand. Track.
The fortunate truth is that every person within an organization does have a role in advancing the principles of DEI. The trick is helping employees discover those roles, understand what living out those roles looks like day-to-day, and importantly, giving them the tools to remain accountable to their plan.
Until recently, the three-pronged approach to employee engagement in DEI has largely occurred in small, sometimes siloed groups. Individually, those groups can be highly engaged and very effective. However, other groups find it difficult to get started or maintain momentum. Communication among the groups doesn’t always flow freely, and this can lead to misunderstandings—or worse, feelings of isolation or not belonging.
Today, however, many credit unions are working differently, treating DEI with strategic gloves. Those having the greatest success with cohesion and employee engagement are sticking to three best practices. They have:
- Gathered data to inform the most effective go-forward plan.
- Engrained DEI strategy into the credit union’s long-term strategic plan.
- Integrated systems for tracking, reporting and communicating progress at scale across the organization.
Modern credit unions are no strangers to the power of data analytics. They have seen the value of testing hypotheses through continuous research. It’s the only way to learn how members actually think and behave vs. how we believe they do.
DEI goals, especially those related to financial inclusion and wellbeing, are no different than those related to loan growth, membership growth or even digital transformation. Until you know where the gaps exist, you can’t identify the best go-forward plan. Gathering and frequently refreshing data helps the entire organization understand the demographics in their community and translate them to operational knowledge.
For example, the data of a Coopera credit union partner in Florida showed that Latino members were on average 49 years old. Based on previous experience, the credit union had thought the average age was much younger. The data and a strategy to ensure member service and products align with member needs is enabling the partner to focus on being culturally relevant to populations living within previous banking deserts.
Engrained DEI Strategy
When DEI plans are fully integrated with the credit union’s overall strategic goals, leadership is communicating their importance to every employee of the cooperative.
With integration into the strategic plan, board of directors, too, are better engaged in the setting and achievement of goals specific to making all lives better through interaction with the credit union. Historically, credit unions that have achieved the most momentum on diversity and inclusion initiatives have had highly involved boards. The board sets the strategic direction and holds executives accountable by monitoring progress and reviewing regular reports.
We’ve seen this through many of our credit union partners. One embraced deep financial inclusion and belonging work by making it a strategic imperative. About three years ago, the credit union identified the most underserved consumers in their footprint. Though a multi-year partnership that deployed culturally relevant communications, new product offerings and several new inclusion tools, the credit union has experienced unprecedented growth. Just one of the changes—opening accounts through an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)—increased growth exponentially, evidence of a pent-up demand for financial services among ITIN holders.
Detailed Tracking at Scale
It’s one thing to commit to better communication through frequent huddles or even formal committee meetings. It’s another to deploy a system of sustainable governance that lets different departments and multiple employees engage with tracking and reporting as needed. Having access to activity data across the spectrum of areas impacting DEI helps senior management understand where there are gaps and areas of progress at an enterprise level. It also helps them understand, through ownership and visibility, how their individual contributions ladder up to the greater goals of the credit union.
While credit unions evaluate the best way to integrate DEI into the fabric of their credit union, it’s important for senior managers to understand both the governance and operational needs. Reporting and transparent tracking is a must as it has the benefit of not only informing governance decisions at an enterprise level, but the operational benefit of documenting the preparation to meet examiner expectations. Using technology and recognizing the role everyone plays in the DEI journey to discover, track and understand can transform DEI from ideology to action.
Just as the mission of people helping people is engrained throughout the fabric of the credit union, so must be the credit union’s DEI practices. Making internal and external initiatives both strategic, and yet also every-day, is the surest way to keep employees working together, as a team, down the path to DEI excellence.
ViClarity and Coopera continually partner together, combining ViClarity’s compliance, governance and technology expertise with Coopera’s deep understanding of DEI best practices and applied analytics. Miriam and Victor will share more on this topic and the organizational learnings at the upcoming World Credit Union Conference in Glasgow, Scotland in July.
Services performed by ViClarity are compliance and not legal in nature, and do not form an attorney-client relationship or any of the protections attendant to the attorney-client relationship.