Good Governance: How to Ensure Board-Level Commitment to Inclusive Business Practices

colorful faces lined up
Lisa Hochgraf Photo
Senior Editor

5 minutes

Keep it strategic and data-driven; consider your policies; and emphasize learning.

How many times have you heard credit union leaders say they’re all about the members? That they’re committed to being “people helping people”? That they want to help members improve their financial lives?

When it comes to member service, a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the organization—including at the board level—can help a credit union serve more members better. This idea was central last month during a panel discussion at the virtual CU Pride Leadership Conference session.

To promote inclusion at the board level, the panel emphasized the importance of keeping DEI strategic and data-driven, considering your policies, and emphasizing learning.

Linking DEI to Strategy and Supporting It With Data

CUES member Marci Francisco, CCE, panel moderator and chief experience officer at $3.4 billion Premier America Credit Union, Chatsworth, California, said keeping DEI strategic and showing its business value helps when working with her credit union’s board.

“In terms of easing any doubts or questions in board members’ minds, we consistently tie it into our mission and core values, team members’ values, and how this truly helps increase team member engagement and expand our potential talent pool,” she said.

Francisco said that an important first step forward with a DEI effort can be looking at the data—and that was the first step her new CEO took when coming on board. So, the credit union took a look at the diversity among its membership and keeps that in mind.

Panelist Amanda Denney, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at $6.8 billion MSU Federal Credit Union in East Lansing Michigan, echoed the idea that membership diversity data can be useful.

“Putting this together to give boards an awareness of what do our current employee and member demographics look like” is key, she said. “Do the board members match this? If not, we can dive into why.”

Peter Morales said he was putting on his “MBA hat” as he made his comments about board diversity via the data.

“Leadership at all levels should be reflective of the membership, full stop,” said Morales, board director of $3.6 billion Credit Human, San Antonio, Texas, and a CUES member. “If you don’t focus on your market, if you don’t pay attention to their financial needs, another FI (financial institution) will come after the member” and potentially win their business.

Several panelists offered some actionable ways to look for more diversity in new directors.

Notably, Richard Cooper, EVP/chief lending officer of $180 million Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, Santa Cruz, California, offered these ideas: “Getting involved in wide cross-sections of community gives opportunities to come across the leaders, folks who are getting stuff done, local employment, food pantry, whatever. Go where you haven’t gone before and ask, ‘Who brings some skills? Who brings a different set of knowledge?’ Quite often, that’s where you’re going to find your success.”

Put Good Policies in Place

Denney recommends boards make an intentional effort to be inclusive through the policies they write. As an example, if a board directs a credit union’s leaders to make sure employee benefits are inclusive of all employees, the HR leader might look at how benefits could be provided to couples in same-sex marriages as well as to couples comprised of a man and a woman.

Denney says the aim should be to have policies that are inclusive to the point where people feel comfortable “being out with who they are.”

“We have IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatment for same-sex couples,” she noted, and a “rider on (our) insurance policy so they can also start families.” MSUFCU’s policies also include 12 weeks of paid time off when you have a child, “but we also do it for adoptions,” Denney adds. These arrangements are “really inclusive and really intentional. These benefit a lot of people, but these are thought about intentionally.”

Denney said her CEO, CUES member April Clobes, “regularly uses pronouns in her emails.”

“Showing that support from the top-down has been really impactful,” Denney continues. “It’s automatically one of the questions that gets asked when we’re creating new policies and procedures: Are we including all the communities that we need to?”

Denney also recommends supporting board oversight of DEI efforts by providing regular updates to directors, “making sure they’re able to see the benefit to members and employees with the work.”

DEI as a Learning Journey

Several panelists talked about what they are doing to make sure their board members receive ongoing DEI education.

“We are launching deeper DEI training for the board this year,” Francisco noted, “finally, with the inclusion of the eighth cooperative principle—diversity, equity and inclusion. This is foundational to being a credit union.”

Cooper said Santa Cruz Community CU “is fortunate to have a board that comes from an inclusionary point of view, but we also do regular training on DEI issues—and last year did a special session on LGBTQ+ issues.”

“It’s also great to note contributions from inclusionary practices with staff—and note the difference they make,” he added. “All that education gets mixed into our organizational ‘sauce’ and just enhances who we are.”

Denney pointed out that DEI education is always important at the board level but especially so “if we have boards that don’t match those employee and member bases.”

“How can we educate them on the topics that are really important or make sure they’re aware of how different decisions can impact these groups?”

Lisa Hochgraf is senior editor at CUES.

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