Sisters: It is Time to Become SHE for SHEs

chalk symbols representing male and female gender on red clay earth on opposite sides of a chasm
Lena Giakoumopoulos Photo
GWLN Program Director
World Council of Credit Unions
Susan Mitchell Photo
CEO of Mitchell Stankovic & Associates
Founding Chair of GWLN

7 minutes

The Global Women’s Leadership Network aims to close the gender gap around the world.

The National Women’s Law Center announced in January that women lost a total of 140,000 jobs in December of 2020, making the total job loss for women over 5.4 million in 2020 and proving that the impact of the pandemic continues to hit hard on American families. More concerning is that more than 40% of women age 20 and over have been out of work for longer than six months. Among women, Latinas currently have the highest unemployment rate at 9.1%, followed by Black women at 8.4%.

In an article on CNN, C. Nicole Mason, president/CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research said:

“We don't have the pandemic under control. Schools and day cares are still closing, and we know that’s what’s impacting women's ability to reenter the workforce and sustain jobs.”

Credit unions are considered to have essential workers, and many of these frontline workers are women struggling to balance the needs of their children, parents, jobs, communities and themselves. There has never been a more critical time for the credit union/financial cooperative industry to stand together and step up. Now is the time for credit union women and men to become engaged helping women in their membership and their organizations bridge this gap.   

Blazing the Trail for Women Around the World

Since 2009, World Council’s Global Women’s Leadership Network has blazed the DEI trail throughout the worldwide credit union movement with an extremely relevant purpose—advancing women. GWLN takes on all shapes based upon individual and global circumstances and what is needed to push for progress. From addressing poverty to aiding struggling students and starving widows to building a business, career development and breaking the glass ceiling, the vision applies!

Susan Mitchell
Susan Mitchell
Founding Chair
There is something magical that happens when you share your story and experience—lives change, fears go away and respect becomes love, just like a Sister who is also your BFF. That is what GWLN is for hundreds of us—it is a common bond of sisters and brothers who have become a worldwide family. We cherish each other. We are excited to see one another. We care about our futures. And, just like a family, we need each other!

Women around the world came together to encourage cooperatives to build a network across all boundaries to change societies by reaching families, children, men and women of all colors, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. And men helped us to break down barriers by becoming HE for SHEs. Advancing women often depends upon a man that empowers, champions and advocates for women, giving us an opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves and to others that we can do it!

GWLN is inclusive, as we know that bridging the gaps in society requires us to unite as humans: people helping people. We need our HE for SHEs and we need to strengthen our power as SHE for SHEs. Yes, Sisters, it is OK to ensure women are at the table, and it won’t take away from the idea that the “best person” is selected for the job. Just like all diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, there is a phase of inclusiveness that encourages us to promote our strengths and our diversity. Being singled out as a part of a group is OK because we bring a network with us, and the circle widens.

We are asking our male colleagues to stand up for and with women—why aren’t we asking more of our female colleagues to do the same? There are many successful women within the credit union movement who are leaders of GWLN around the world. We applaud and thank them. However, there are also many female leaders who are not members and active in promoting other women. Let’s create a SHE for SHE initiative that propels the issue to the top of your organization’s strategic initiatives, because there is serious work to be done.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted progress and could erase many of the hard-won gains for the world’s women. These are some of the disturbing statistics we are working against:

  • At the grassroots level where our members live, women remain disproportionately disadvantaged—of the 1.7 billion people worldwide that remain excluded from the formal financial system, nearly 1 billion are women.
  • Women make up half of the world’s population, but they contribute 37% to global gross domestic product. In 2015, the McKinsey Global Institute found that if women participated in the economy equally with men as much as $28 trillion, or 26%, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.
  • Pre-COVID-19, the World Economic Forum estimated that the overall global gender gap will close in 99.5 years, but the slow progress in closing the economic participation and opportunity gaps would take 257 years.

When we created GWLN’s mission, it was to provide women with opportunities to make a measurable difference in the lives of each other, their credit unions and their communities. Together we are making it happen, and we have the metrics to prove it:

  • 130 local Sister Societies on six continents;
  • more than 4,500 women and men from 85 countries;
  • 64 scholarships to women worldwide; and
  • empowerment grants that started business development centers in Asia and entrepreneurial enterprises in North Macedonia, fed families in Kenya and the U.S., and provided financial counseling for pregnant high school girls wanting to graduate and apply for college.

The HE for SHE movement demonstrates GWLN’s inclusiveness by encouraging men to become members, mentors, champions and to wear pink ties to demonstrate visible commitment and the growing scale of GWLN. In fact, GWLN pink items have become a major connector (and welcome donation) as we witness a “sea of pink” at credit union events around the world. All of this could not have happened without incredible fundraising by our credit union and credit union service organization volunteers who committed their time, talent and treasures to advancing women. Not surprisingly, GWLN had record-breaking fundraising last year as people stood up, realizing that women are being disproportionately impacted by current events and the ongoing global crisis. Thousands of people are connecting virtually worldwide to make a difference. Digital strategies have fast forwarded and governments are taking note, recognizing the work credit unions are doing for women.

GWLN is vital and strong!

“I am very proud of the work we have done and what we have created,” says Susan Mitchell, founding Chair of GWLN and CEO of Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates. “And there is no better time to strengthen our path forward. It was exciting to pass the baton on March 3 to the new Volunteer Chair Teresa Freeborn, who will carry the passion forward with the GWLN team at the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions and all our volunteers worldwide. But they can’t do it alone. All of us must continue to push for progress as the world needs us more than ever right now.”

Freeborn is president/CEO of $934 million Xceed Financial Credit Union in El Segundo, California. Xceed Financial CU will be merged in April 2021 with $5.1 billion Kinecta Federal Credit Union, Manhattan Beach, California, at which time Freeborn will become president of Kinecta FCU.

“The passionate people I have met who believe so strongly in selflessly sharing their human spirits are an inspiration and will change your life as they have mine! So, rest assured that passing the baton does not mean standing down,” Mitchell continues. “In fact, I will be standing up as a member of the Credit Union DEI Collective governing board, and I will remain on the Worldwide Foundation Board as we focus on bridging the gap for all people. I believe that doing the right thing is also good business. Together, credit union women and men will illustrate that GWLN embodies the cooperative principles that our founders believed in over 100 years ago—people helping people.”

The next 10 years are all about sustaining the work done to date and engaging more organizations in the mission to ensure Global Women’s Leadership Network continues as the credit union premier program to advance women worldwide.

Lena Giakoumopoulos is program director of GWLN and Susan Mitchell is CEO of Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates and, until recently, was the GWLN Volunteer Chair.

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