I started my Diversity, Equity and Inclusion advocacy journey in high school, and I’ve carried that into my work in and with credit unions.
When I first started using my voice on this issue professionally in 2017, I could have been committing career suicide. But I also couldn’t sit back and do nothing for the credit union community I love and have grown in as a leader and executive. My commitment overcame my very natural and very real fear.
Overcoming obstacles, such as fear, is what credit unions are made of. Founded to serve the common person who couldn’t get financial services anywhere else during The Great Depression, we were there to serve. I’m sure that was an incredibly scary time for the U.S. Here we are again, so let’s get started.
My commitment to DEI started all the way back in high school, where I was elected student body president. Believe it or not, my Louisiana high school still had segregated proms and other events, and I graduated in 2001!
We wanted to host a black history program, but the principal said no because auditorium usage was limited, and he didn’t want to upset the teachers who wanted to host programs. I didn’t realize I was an activist back then, but that ‘no’ didn’t sit well with me. I proceeded to obtain the signature of every teacher in the school, identifying that they were fine with our usage of the auditorium for the program.
The principal still said no.
We went to the local radio stations with the story, which provided coverage, and staged sit-ins. Finally, the principal gave in to a multicultural program.
Fast forward to today, and I’ve earned a master’s degree in human resources education with a concentration in leadership development, including several organizational development courses. I applied my education and experience in the credit unions I’ve led, both of which were turnaround situations.
I knew culture was the driving force of everything we do, but a few months into my role as CEO of SWLA Credit Union I experienced an epiphany. I realized how much I’d grown my career through assimilation. Professional norms were not developed, intentionally or not, with a diversity of viewpoints in mind. I sold myself and my community out every time I code switched, hiding my blackness.
There’s an element of my blackness that brings a benefit, and it’s only present if I let it be present. I wasn’t going to live like that anymore, nor would I make others suffer through it. My conviction for diversity, equity and inclusion was stronger than my fear for my career.
It worked. As a troubled credit union, others wanted to see an emphasis on SWLA’s financials and figures rather than culture. Everything grows from their culture, like plants. Give them the right water, nutrients and lighting, and they’ll grow.
The proof is in the results. SWLA Credit Union is financially sound and continuing to grow because of the culture and policies we put in place then. When people feel they can bring their whole selves to work through a culture rooted in DEI, productivity increases, efficiency increases, and therefore financial performance does the same. When we figure out culture, effective business strategies flow from there.
If your credit union would like to benefit from my successful experiences, please reach out to me.