The key threads include equity, diversity and inclusion. All three are needed for the best leadership and governance for your credit union.
The recent events in the United States—no, this time, not COVID-19—the recent events surrounding the urgent call for equality led me back to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham jail. I often return to this brilliant piece of literary history, from which I find great guidance and direction, but never so much as I have recently.
In his letter, dated April 16, 1963, he wrote: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” Never have truer words been spoken of these, our United States, or indeed the world. But we should also take an important lesson from these words for the organizations that we lead.
I hear so much lately about organizations and boards—particularly in the credit union space—taking up the cause of “DEI,” or diversity, equity and inclusion. In fact, in our 2020 State of Credit Union Governance, diversity was listed as the highest priority when recruiting new board members among those surveyed. As those at BoardSource, a national organization working to empower boards and inspire leadership, say, “As the decision-making body at the highest level of organizational leadership, boards play a critical role in creating an organization that prioritizes, supports and invests in equity, diversity and inclusion.”
And I couldn’t agree more.
But, it’s important to know what these three terms really mean. (Note: BoardSource re-orders the three from the usual “DEI” to “EDI.” Quantum Governance believes that this is actually the appropriate order, given that the notion of equity is a broader concept that underlies both diversity and inclusion.) And, while they are often used interchangeably, they have very different meanings:
Equity is a conscious and thoughtful awareness of how systemic inequalities have affected our society, individuals and all those an organization serves. As stewards of the public good, all social sector organizations (regardless of their exact mission) are called on to embrace and celebrate the inherent worth of all people. Boards and credit union leaders need to play a vital role in understanding this context. Deeply appreciating the fundamental concept of equity creates powerful opportunities to deepen an organization’s impact, relevance and the ultimate advancement of the public good.
Diversity is the mix of people involved in leading, staffing, volunteering and moving forward the mission of your credit union (or any group for that matter). It is focused on a range of folks from different backgrounds, with varied personal characteristics or attributes who are engaged in the work of the organization as board, staff, volunteers, vendors and members, as well as the people and communities your credit union serves.
Inclusion is about authentically valuing the benefits that diverse people bring to the organization. It is about the conscious and unconscious culture of the credit union and how it values (or not) the contributions that “everyone brings to the table.” It frequently describes how people from a spectrum of backgrounds are genuinely woven into leadership, operations and membership of the organization, how their perspectives are genuinely heard and valued, as well as how their needs are thoughtfully understood and respected.
- Equity is embracing, celebrating and respecting the essential worth of all people and ensuring that our common humanity is honored.
- Diversity is getting a genuine—and expansive—mix of people at “the leadership table” or within a group. It does not sacrifice quality or competence on your board. Indeed, it is designed to enhance it.
- Inclusion is a shared understanding to authentically listen, to actually hear and justly value what people have to offer, contribute and say.
And, all three are needed! Without each of them working together, one supporting the other, your credit union’s governance and leadership will fall short of where it surely needs to be.
Michael Daigneault, CCD, is the CEO of CUES strategic partner Quantum Governance L3C, Herndon, Virginia. Daigneault has more than 30 years of experience in the field of governance, management, strategy, planning and facilitation, and served as an Executive in Residence at CUES Governance Leadership Institute. Quantum Governance provides credit unions, corporations, nonprofits, associations and governmental entities with strategic, cost-effective governance, ethics and management consulting, facilitation and evaluation. With more than 50% of Quantum Governance’s clients representing credit unions, the organization fields more engagements in the credit union community than in any other. The organization home to more strategic governance experience than any other practice in the country. The firm is a unique L3C organization that integrates the best elements of both the for- and non-profit communities into one practice. It is a low-profit, limited-liability service organization dedicated to the public good and one of the very first such legal hybrid organizations in the United States.