GAC Coverage: Getting 'Real Real' With DEI

WASHINGTON–A group of credit unions leaders here got “real real” on the issue of DEI during CUNA’s GAC here, including addressing the touchy issue of whether some groups in credit unions are just a “tool of the radical left.”

The viewpoints were shared during a breakout session titled “The Real Real on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” Tackling some of the related touch issues were a half-dozen people, including:

  • Juan Fernandez Ceballas, president/CEO, Credit Union Association of New Mexico (moderator)

  • Renee Sattiewhite, CEO, African-American CU Coalition

  • Diana Hastings, executive director, National Association of Latino CU Professionals

  • Pablo Defilippi, EVP, Inclusiv

  • Zach Christensen, co-founder, CU-Pride, director of DEI and communications, Mitchell Stankovic & Associates

  • Victor Corro, Chair, CU DEI Collective, CEO, Coopera Consulting

Here’s a look at the questions asked and the responses provided:

Ceballas: 2020 was a painful year. Not only was there a global pandemic, but there was the tragic murder of George Floyd, which was deeply hurtful and deeply personal to many of us. That gave more impetus to this conversation of DEI that was long overdue. What initiative or what change are you most proud of that has happened in our movement since 2020?

Sattiewhite: I no longer say minority, I say colored majority. But what I’m most proud of is how credit unions have rallied around initiatives against racism and what we have done to create safe spaces for people to have conversations.

When George Floyd was murdered the Commitment to Change initiative was able to put together a panel of men who had sons and those men were on that call. To say nothing would make us complicit. The most poignant thing on that particular call was when I watched (CUNA CEO) Jim Nussle get it.

We now have all 34 leagues partnered with AACUC. We have quadrupled in size. We have had a plethora of people connect with AACUC to get more information and to partner and to get counsel on their DEI journey. I am most proud of the fact we have risen to the point where we are respected for what we have are.

Hastings: I started in August of 2021. I thought credit unions were doing (DEI) and these were conversations you had had for years and it was at the forefront of your mission. And it is for some of you. It’s also important to know you have been doing a lot of this work under maybe different names and lenses, often by serving underserved communities.

One of the first things that really amazed me about the credit union movement, and which I could not believe, was that your profits could be reinvested, that it could be used to serve the community. My mother always told me you should align your values with your pockets and I see this immense opportunity in credit unions to do exactly that, to really channel all the assets you have in making a change. The major factor in making transcendental change lies in assets. I encourage you to repurpose those surpluses to make a wider impact.

DeFilippi: What we should be collectively proud of is the realization that what we do matters. It matters beyond our members and the communities we serve. We are not just financial institutions and that is something we have to get in our heads. We are engines of change. What we do matters. The banking sector doesn’t see half of the country, or even more. This system doesn’t work for everyone, especially for low-income people and people of color.

Congress has realized this and provided $12 billion (in CDFI funding). Congress realized that we don’t need public backing, we don’t need the post office in our business. We are here and doing this work. #12B in grants and secondary capital. That $12 billion is going to go a long way. We are not just another bank.

Christensen: I think for me it’s the conversations we’re having. It starts with what AACUC did in 2020. We need to open our eyes to the marginalized communities we’re serving. Just today I had a conversation with a Crasher who said ‘I am amazed at how many queer credit union professionals there really are.’ But they have always been there. But we are now having conversations and people feel safe and good and they are able to show up as their authentic selves. This isn’t just a conversation about diversity, this is about employees and your members and your communities.

Corro: One of the things I am very proud of is we have gone from asking why, why, why, why about DEI to asking about how do we do this and how much and how fast. That is such a change in the last 18 months. The conversations we’re having about DEI are substantial.

We have found out we have a beautiful business model, that of a financial cooperative, that is supposed to be the center of development in a community. We are there when no one else is. We are there for that consumer who is most marginalized. We have to think about people who have drama and messy financial lives. We have all the tools and are learning how to use them by asking how. We have all the elements to get there, and that’s what I’m proud of.

Fernandez Ceballas: In 2006 CUNA created the Hispanic Outreach Task Force. Here we are in 2022 and we are still having these discussions and we haven’t really moved the needle. What is the missing link? What do you wish our movement was working on or doing a better job of?

Corro: Admitting that we are behind is one of the things. Just look at the statistics. What is your FOM? What is your membership right now? That is a good indicator of whether you are on the right path? Does your C suite and board reflect the community you are trying to serve?

The second question is, do the last members you signed up walk out to another credit union or bank? Are you a welcoming credit union? What are the barriers you have that are keeping some consumers from coming in your doors?

Defilippi: I would add urgency. I see us having this conversation in 2042. But the country isn’t going to be the same. We are running against time. This is not meant to scare people, it’s just meant to make us realize we have a window of opportunity that has been closing down for a while. We as an industry need to realize the country has already changed. That colored majority is already a reality in many places. But how many CUs reflect that? Not many.

Christensen: One of the missing links is I hope some of the people in this room are doubters of this conversation. I hope some of you are here to get a better understanding or just to hear or listen. I hope we’re bringing people in to have the greater conversation.

The one thing we need to work on is how we share our story and our message. It’s great to talk about the shoebox in the basement, and while we love the Millennials, the next generations is not going to care about that. This conversation we are having is what is going on to drive people to credit unions. We are passionate, but we need to change the narrative so it reaches that next generation.

Fernandez Ceballas: Someone said they believe some organizations in credit unions are becoming tools of the radical left. What do you say to those who believe this conversation is political?

Christensen: I don’t think there is anything divisive about wanting to uplift a human being who is living and loving and being successful and wanting to be their best self. There is nothing political about that.

Published article available here.