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What's In A Name: Chief Culture Officer

Emma Hayes brings a career built on a commitment to inclusion and internal development for her new role at SECU.


At $53.1 billion in assets, State Employees’ Credit Union ($53.1B, Raleigh, NC) is the nation’s largest state-chartered credit union and second-largest overall. Its network of nearly 280 branches spread across the Tarheel State to serve a growing membership that’s pushing 2.7 million is a testament to the cooperative’s dedication to outstanding member service.

Now, SECU has added a new hire to bring out the most from its workforce of approximately 7,300 people. As SECU’s first chief culture officer, Emma Hayes intends to leverage the credit union’s diversity of views and talents to create a responsive, committed workforce that is empowered to make a difference in the financial lives of those they serve.

Hayes made the move to SECU in March after a year as the chief diversity officer with the African-American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC) and more than seven years in development and learning positions with Local Government FCU ($3.5B, Raleigh, NC). The North Carolina State University grad also spent 15 years working as and then developing technical writers with employers in the Research Triangle.


Why did SECU create the title of chief culture officer?


Emma Hayes: SECU has been around for 85 years. We’ve built a reputation for providing excellence in service. Our passion for “people helping people” has driven our team members to go above and beyond to ensure our members are well taken care of.


SECU created the position of chief culture officer not to shift the focus away from the thing that has helped us grow to who we are today, but to broaden the focus to include those who have helped us.


The “What’s In A Name” series is one of several Callahan Collections available at CreditUnions.com. Check out this collection, then browse the collections available for disaster recovery, member feedback, community impact, sustainability, deposits, analytics, and more.


What challenges and opportunities does your role address? How do you plan to address them?


EH: I see my role as having four major functions that address challenges and opportunities in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI): leadership development, employee engagement, and internal brand marketing.


Leadership development is crucial. People don’t leave organizations, they leave bosses. It is my responsibility to create a cohesive and inclusive leadership language that permeates throughout the organization.


The hope is to build transparency and trust into everything we do, to help our leaders navigate the evolution and changes they are currently experiencing, to help them build capacity and resilience. We intend to help our leaders build other leaders.


In doing so, we hope to engage our team members in ways that fuel their passion for our members, communities, and one another. We want them to feel they have a place with us. They can bring their entire self. Accomplishing engagement at an elevated level will produce collaboration and innovation. We endeavor to make SECU the employer of choice, a certified Great Place to Work.


We have so many incredible stories throughout our organization that speak to the real purpose of SECU. However, we’ve not historically done a good job of sharing our stories. It’s time we shared our stories, in our voice, with our passion.


Although I’m still in a period of discovery, the plan is to listen, learn, and plan with intentional focus on addressing our priorities using the information we collect from those most impacted.


Please describe your goals for developing DEI at SECU.


EH: With the recent social unrest, increase in hate crimes, and the changing landscape and evolving expectations of the talent pool, there’s never been a more pressing time to support a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizational culture.


Therefore, the goal is to increase representation at multiple levels of the organization; provide resources, awareness, and development opportunities; create a diverse pipeline of talent; embrace diversity of thought, and implement equitable and inclusive practices that foster a sense of appreciation and belonging across the organization.


Ultimately, we want to get to a place where DEI is in the forefront of our minds, a consideration in the decisions we make, and is woven into everything we do to the point where it’s just who are.


How will meeting those goals improve member service and bring more value to an SECU member?


EH: We’ll never lose focus on serving our members — it’s why we exist. However, we want to expand our focus on our team members. We want to provide the same exceptional service to them that they provide to our members.


When you treat people well, they are generally happier. Happier employees provide better service to members. It’s the trickle-down effect. The exceptional service our members receive today will only be made better by achieving our goals and vision.


How did your work at LGFCU prepare you for this role?


EH: I was built for this position — all of my life experiences both personal and professional prepared me to serve SECU.


Throughout my career, I’ve been groomed by some of our industry’s best. I had the opportunity to witness stellar leadership under the tutelage of Maurice Smith. At LGFCU, there are two credit unions under one umbrella. The challenge in serving both LGFCU and Civic FCU was to provide a collective leadership voice but maintain the integrity of the individual organizations. There, I was afforded the opportunity to design, build, and facilitate a leadership program that created a common enterprise leadership language at different levels of leadership.


Under Maurice’s leadership, I was encouraged to obtain my certification as a diversity professional. Creating the Leadership Academy and becoming a Certified Diversity Professional were two milestones that helped prepare me to serve in my current capacity.


Are there any other mentors who have influenced your development?


EH: I had a front-row seat watching and taking notes from Renée Sattiewhite, who served as an example of what it means to truly serve your purpose passionately. The AACUC, in partnership with LGFCU, was able to leverage my passion for DEI and for learning and development.


Renée empowered me to build the DEI Leadership Academy for Financial Professional certificate program. She served as a mentor, coach, and sponsor for my career development. I call her a curator of talent. She sees things in people they sometimes don’t see in themselves. Then she gives them a platform and the autonomy to shine. That’s what she has done for me and so many others.


It’s because of the things I have been able to achieve under Maurice and Renée that I was well-suited and properly positioned to serve SECU.


Who do you report to and who reports to you?


EH: I report directly to Jim Hayes, CEO of SECU. To make the impact we want across the organization, it’s important that I have a direct connection to the leader of our organization. Jim has a vision for DEI at SECU that I can absolutely get behind and support. Reporting directly to him shows his unwavering commitment and support of our DEI efforts. I’m currently in the