Making the Case for DEI at Your Credit Union

Making the Case for DEI at Your Credit Union

Since diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) was added as the eighth cooperative principle in 2020, there has been extensive research and discussion on what an effective DEI strategy looks like and why it matters.

Before the 1960s, there was no conversation on DEI in America.  During that decade, diversity issues in the workplace were centered around concerns with complying with new civil rights laws.  Employers were forced to look at their hiring practices and consider whether opportunities existed for all members of society.  Diversity education also began in the 1960s as a way to address lingering racial tensions between Black people, and other people of color (POC), and white people as a result of the civil rights movement.  In the following decades, as companies became compliant with the various civil rights laws and regulations focused on diversifying the workplace, the mindset around diversity shifted.  The main reason for implementing diversity initiatives was that attracting and maintaining a diverse workforce was simply the right thing to do for employees and the business from a moral standpoint.  The focus then transformed to the business case that suggests diversity improves an organization’s financial performance and reduces employee turnover, which affects the bottom line.

As a society, we are gaining more awareness of our conscious versus subconscious thinking.  There is a growing understanding of unconscious bias, which refers to the beliefs, attitudes or behaviors over which we have no conscious control.  Everyone is susceptible to unconscious, or implicit, biases and they influence our behavior towards others without us even realizing it.  These unconscious biases have the potential to negatively impact the workplace because they influence how we’re recruiting people for employment at the credit union; making hiring decisions; making job assignments; providing training opportunities; making promotion decisions; and giving performance reviews.  It’s valuable to explore why prioritizing DEI at your credit union now is critical for retaining quality diverse talent in your staff, as well as in representing and meeting the needs of your members.

So….you’ve read the DEI articles, looked at the research, attended the education sessions and are ready to implement real and lasting change at your credit union.  But how do you convince your board to make defining a DEI strategy a priority?  And what do you say to the management team who questions the time and resources spent on DEI efforts when there are so many other things to do?  These are tough questions, and conversations around DEI can sometimes get sticky. Being prepared to make the case for DEI from the moral, business and legal standpoints will help you on this path to secure board and leadership team support.  This early alignment at the decision-making levels of the credit union will ensure you’re building a strong foundation on which to create a dynamic and effective DEI program.

The Moral Case

Plain and simple – attracting and maintaining a diverse workforce is just the right thing to do.  The credit union philosophy of “people helping people” gets to the heart of the issue that people matter and we all should have equal opportunity to develop, progress and be rewarded and recognized at work.  Our employees and members are our greatest assets, and people are motivated to stay with organizations that uphold values that resonate with them.

Upholding DEI at your credit union shows your commitment to the overall wellbeing of the employees, members and communities you serve. Wellbeing can be understood in the following areas:

  • Emotional – The credit union is a place where people feel connected and that they matter.
  • Social – A sense of belonging and a connection with the communities the credit union serves.
  • Physical – Less anxiety and stress amongst employees contribute to overall, better physical health.
  • Spiritual – Promotes respect and devotion to all of humanity and holistic wellbeing.
  • Intellectual – Provides equal opportunity for growth, training and advancement and welcomes diversity of thought and the healthy and diverse exchange of ideas.
  • Occupational – People are more focused and engaged at work and feel psychologically safe at the credit union.

Additionally, a commitment to advancing DEI creates lasting change.  Doing the right thing has become a movement and will set your credit union up for future success.  It also builds an inclusive workplace which creates feelings of being valued and belonging amongst employees.  And we all want to feel like we belong.

The Business Case

Although the moral case should be sufficient in making your case for DEI, some leaders still need to see a business case to justify prioritizing DEI at your credit union.  It is a widely accepted belief that diversity and inclusion yield positive performance outcomes for organizations and by being inclusive and supporting diversity, organizations may benefit in a variety of areas that are not typically measured.

An inclusive workplace reduces employee turnover which is expensive and distracting for any organization.  The time and resources spent recruiting, hiring and training new staff are significant.  If employees feel unwelcomed or like they don’t belong, they will leave as soon as they have the opportunity.  A workplace that does not prioritize inclusiveness will also cause plenty of existing employees to stagnate.  This is especially true if you have staff that are working remotely in the current pandemic environment.

Valuing diversity will ensure your credit union gets the best talent.  By revising your recruiting strategies and expanding the audiences in which you market job openings, you will get the best candidates applying for positions. Hiring bias is real, pervasive, and often happens subconsciously.  Failing to acknowledge this, is costing credit unions the best talent. Additionally, fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace culture makes it more likely the right people continue to advance into leadership positions, instead of getting stuck in the wrong role or in a job with little advancement opportunities.

Demonstrating that your credit union values DEI can also help you be seen by new members.  Cultivating a deep understanding of your current and potential members is fundamental to creating products and services that meet their needs. This can be a great advantage when expanding into new market segments.  Research has shown that a diverse workforce increases creativity within teams and promotes innovation, which just helps you better address the unique challenges and needs of your members.

There are no legal mandates for DEI in the workplace, but there are many places where DEI intersects with the law.  Federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions), disability, age (40 and older), citizenship, genetic information and national origin.  Many states also have anti-discrimination laws, which in some instances expand on the classes and characteristics protected under state law.  Many of these state statutes are designed to promote inclusion and diversity in the workplace.  The following are major federal anti-discriminatory laws passed to address these issues specifically:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)
  • Equal Pay Act (EPA)
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
  • The Immigration Reform & Control Act (IRCA)

Although it is not yet legally required, employers are encouraged to adopt written DEI policies and strengthen their equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment policies and procedures to include DEI training and education.  It’s also important to have an effective and practical procedure for aggrieved and/or whistle-blower employees to bring offenses to be addressed.  Creating and enforcing these policies contributes to your credit union being an inclusive place to work and supports an environment where employees feel safe and protected from discrimination and harassment.

Making a real and tangible commitment to advancing DEI in your workplace is the right thing to do and embodies the “people helping people” credit union philosophy.  It also supports your bottom line by attracting and retaining employees, cultivating a more productive and innovative work force and attracting more loyal members.  A defined DEI strategy that is crafted, supported and championed by your board and leadership team will ensure the future success of your credit union and cement your relationship with the communities you serve.

Erin Doan is the diversity, equity and inclusion director for Vizo Financial. She is responsible for developing and implementing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and community involvement strategies and programs that foster an environment of inclusivity and collaboration amongst staff, business partners and natural person credit unions. Erin has held various roles with the Corpoate since 2002 and is a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE).