Mentoring Program Builds Bridges Among Diverse Women

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By St. Cloud Financial Credit Union

4 minutes

St. Cloud Financial CU first sponsors a national 1-to-1Woman cohort then brings the model back home to Minnesota.

It was a sunny spring afternoon in 2022 when Jed Meyer, president/CEO of $327 million St. Cloud Financial Credit Union, St. Cloud, Minnesota, first saw a post on LinkedIn from Montana’s Credit Unions’ recently retired CEO Tracie Kenyon. 

At that time, Kenyon had just participated in a program for women that paired executive-level Caucasian mentors with non-executive African-American women in the credit union industry. She was now challenging other credit unions to host their own regional cohorts. 

It wasn’t long before Meyer, a CUES member, was connected with Shellee Mitchell, founder of the 1-to-1Woman Mentoring program as well as her own firm, Sapphire Dimension LLC.

“When you first hear about the 1-to-1Woman program, you can’t help but be inspired by Shellee’s vision to connect women from various backgrounds and cultures to create connection, where each person is learning from the other,” Meyer says. “Immediately I knew we needed to get connected to Shellee, to not just participate in the next round of mentorships, but to actually sponsor a … cohort.”

The St. Cloud Cohort of 1-to-1Woman

The cohort sponsored by St. Cloud Financial CU kicked off in August 2022 and ran through October 2022, matching nine pairs of women—18 women in total—from 13 credit unions and organizations with a wide variety of roles, experiences and cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

three female mentors
From left: Meggan Schwirtz, chief experience officer; Jamie Kleve, chief operating officer; and Alyce Justin, chief administration officer; were the St. Cloud Financial Credit Union executive team members who were mentors in the program.

Jamie Kleve, chief operating officer at the CU talks about her time spent as a mentor and leader of the cohort group. 

“Participating in the 1-to-1Woman Mentoring program was an opportunity to meet some incredibly beautiful and talented women, in addition to creating awareness for myself when it comes to racism and discrimination in our society. Living and working in a geographic area where diversity is not as prevalent as others can create a false sense of equality. Personally, I had to step back and view the facts, feelings and perceptions of Black women and the struggles they have had, and continue to have, in climbing any corporate ladder.”

St. Cloud Financial CU’s sponsorship covered the fees for the 1-to-1Woman program materials, administrative details and participant packages. The credit union also helped gather executive-level Caucasian females who are empathetic to diversity, equity and inclusion to serve as mentors. As a thank you for the CU’s advocacy, its logo was featured on all 1-to-1Woman materials for the cohort.

Meggan Schwirtz, chief experience officer at St. Cloud Financial CU, adds: “One of my greatest takeaways from this experience was understanding that there is a tough belief that if you are from a different cultural background, you are more limited to what you can be and where you can go. It opened my eyes to not just believe in women who want to reach for more, but also (to ask,) ‘What else can we do as an organization to support, hire and promote various ethnic women who want to be successful in their careers?’”

Taking the Program Home

After the program, Meyer and the executive women who participated in the cohort got to work on building a parallel multicultural program at St. Cloud Financial CU. 

“This mentoring program really was the start for us as an organization to reach out to others in our local community from various religious, cultural or economic backgrounds,” Schwirtz says. “We want to diversify our employee culture, but also create inclusive products and services to help all individuals participate with banking in ways that are most meaningful to them.”

When people become successful in their careers or finances, that opens the door for them to help others become more successful as well, Meyer says. “Your company cannot become the best version of itself unless your staff are striving to be the best versions of themselves. This program really helped us to start the process of connecting those dots and to keep recognizing those opportunities.”

As Meyer and his team continue to build new products with expected releases later this year, they are quick to credit Mitchell and rally support for the 1-to-1Woman Mentoring program. 

“If you are a credit union considering sponsoring a cohort, you absolutely must do it!” Kleve says. “This is one of the most rewarding learning and relationship-building opportunities you can support. This program is a valuable step to help bridge the gap in the cultural divides.”

With more than 90 years serving Central Minnesota, $327 million St. Cloud Financial Credit Union, St. Cloud, began serving postal employees in 1930 and expanded throughout the years to people who live or work in Stearns, Benton, Sherburne, Wright, Meeker, Kandiyohi and Morrison counties. It currently has five branches.

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