Over my tenure within the Financial Services industry, I continue to observe women finding their presence within this vertical, specifically in the Credit Union space. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I appreciate an article, from CU Times last March which inspired a call to action for our industry to “challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations, and celebrate women’s achievements.” Importantly, they note: “Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue.”
I am proud of our Credit Union space, as traditionally we have been more diverse than other financial institutions, with 52% (as of 2019 CUNA report) of CEO’s being female. While these CEOs do represent smaller asset sized CU’s, there is growing representation and I am eager to see this trend continue. An area of opportunity continues to be within technical leadership roles both in and out of the credit union space. CU Times reported last September, “tech roles in credit unions are likely less gender diverse” with little to no data on , gender representation at the chief technology officer or chief information officer positions. An opportunity across all financial services, technology and fintech spaces will be to continue to strengthen internal diversity ecosystems to foster, embrace and create successors for future tech and leadership roles.
Credit Union of Colorado has made a concerted effort to support a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategy which gives way to new conversations and space to challenge legacy thinking. The strategy brings intentionality to organization wide unconscious bias training, gender and race equality assessments, and unpacks complex topics like gender gap and succession planning strategies. As shared by Accenture, in many organizations, the “leaky pipeline” of women in middle management becomes a deterrent to long term succession planning. The analogy speaks to an opportunity for organizations to make changes in how they long term plan, becoming more intentional about the diversity of their executive and board to reduce the leaky pipeline of losing high performing female leaders.
While doing some research for our DEI strategy, we came across a study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, which looked at over 118 companies and nearly 30k employees to evaluate specifically female leadership and gender equality in the workforce. The study revealed “despite modest improvements, women remain underrepresented at every level of the corporate pipeline, with the disparity greatest at senior levels of leadership”. When we peel this back a bit further, specifically looking at the FI sector, Mercer Research share “women comprise more than two-thirds of support staff in the average financial services organization, but only represent 37% of managers and 26% of senior managers. Female representation falls as career levels rise and is echoed as only 20% of board members and 16% of executive committee members in financial services firms are female.”
So, what does this all mean about the progress made by women in the financial sector? Well we still have work to do! With an already competitive market and one may even argue a shortage of talent across the board, FI’s findings mean celebrating all talent and making an extra effort to celebrate women’s impact within the financial sector, is a necessary investment. In looking ahead, I see an incredibly important movement going on with naming Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts as a primary driver of change. Financial institutions committing to a concerted effort to be aware and intentional about opening spaces where gender, race and inclusion is a primary consideration, making attracting, developing and retaining employees a corporate mission. It is important to callout, that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion requires a balance where all genders, roles and organizational commitments co-exist and while there is room to make improvements, it will continue to take a village of all our employees to support our members and their growing needs.
I continue to be inspired by the women and men whom I work alongside, who hold Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as an important guiding light that can teach us new things, uncover unconscious biases and allow us to do better than the day before. I am proud to be a female leader within the financial sector and even more proud to be a Credit Union advocate who believes our current efforts are going to lead the way to the next generation of great women leaders.
Kelly Wagner-Grull, Director of Innovation and Member Experience, Credit Union of Colorado.