Article

No Single Blueprint

rolled up architectural blueprints on wooden table
By Felicia Hudson Hannafan

14 minutes

While the business case for DEI only gets stronger, each organization’s plan for training will be unique.

While there has been much debate about whether or not diversity training works, there is a compelling—and growing—business case for credit unions to invest in, and sustain, diversity, equity and inclusion. 

According to a May 2020 McKinsey report, “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters,” the business case for inclusion and diversity is stronger than ever. In fact, the report’s authors write that “the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time.”

The foundational credit union philosophy of “people helping people” aligns well with the tenets of diversity, equity and inclusion. This is true not only internally for credit union teams but also extends externally to the communities CUs serve. 

Doug Harris, CEO of The Kaleidoscope Group, a Chicago-based diversity and inclusion consultancy, says that when diversity is discussed, it’s most often in the context of representation within the workplace, but a bigger part of the work should be invested in the diverse marketplaces companies serve.

“There are a lot of different types of people utilizing credit unions, and they want effective customer service,” says Harris. “They want you to be able to manage your biases—so there’s both external work and internal work to be done. If you’re not doing it well internally, many times it gets hard to do it externally. You have to learn how to value these differences because it’s showing up in who your customer is.”

Paying attention to DEI is no longer optional. It’s incumbent on credit unions to create an inclusive workplace culture that will foster membership and revenue growth. And doing well with DEI is an increasingly important part of that.

“There’s a business case, there’s a moral case, and there’s an economic case for diversity, equity, and inclusion,” says Vernetta Walker, president/CEO of Vernetta Walker & Associates Consulting, who was previously senior advisor on diversity, inclusion and equity at BoardSource. “What’s key is for each organization to articulate their case for DI&E. It’s easier to start building from there.”

Doug Harris
CEO,
The Kaleidoscope Group
Everybody has to own this. The champion, or sponsor, enforces how they own it, but everybody needs to own it if it’s going to make a difference.

Key Premises About DEI Training

Once your credit union decides to invest in DEI, how do you ensure that any training you offer is not just checking off boxes but truly effective and leading to worthwhile conversations? 

Chris Jones, founding partner of SpectraDiversity, a Minneapolis-based diversity and inclusion company, offers three common premises about diversity training that are worthy of examination.

1. The first premise—that diversity training will “fix” things—is false. Without organization-wide changes to management behaviors, policies, practices and procedures, and to individual beliefs and interpersonal skills, real change is difficult to obtain much less sustain, Jones says. In most organizations’ current model, people go to the training and then they get on with their busy lives. Without sustainment actions, no real change takes place.

2. The second premise—that diversity training is needed—can sometimes be a misnomer. What may be needed is inclusion training. Diversity is a fact. It’s how many people of different ages, ethnicities, races, gender identities, abilities and sexual orientation exist within an organization. Most employees have no control over the fact of diversity in their organization. What employees do have control over is inclusion, Jones explains. Inclusion is built on bias identification and such interpersonal skills as listening with an open mind, speaking in an inclusive manner and communicating well with others who are different from you. These are not only skills for the workplace but life skills. Think of it as emotional intelligence.

3. The third premise—and this one is true—is that inclusion training should not be conducted without first measuring attitudes and behaviors. Leaders should first understand what the organization’s issues are before training takes place, Jones emphasizes. Are women feeling disenfranchised? Are Black employees feeling excluded? Is management perceived as favoring certain groups of people? If an organization understands where people are, a DEI strategy and tailored training will be more effective.

DEI Training Part of Larger Vision

While there is no singular blueprint for creating a strong DEI training program, the best ones execute on a well-defined strategy, a consistent focus and an ongoing commitment. Here are three big-picture steps to ensure that credit unions are setting themselves up for success. 

1. Commit to Ownership From the Top Down

Diversity, equity and inclusion experts recommend hiring an employee experienced in creating DEI training or working with a consulting firm that specializes in it. Equally important is having a “champion” or “sponsor,” meaning an executive in the company backing the effort.

Aphaphanh Nussbaum, MBA, SHRM-SCP, diversity and recruiting coordinator at $258 million Everence Federal Credit Union, Goshen, Indiana, acknowledges that though the CU has been doing diversity training for more than 20 years, it hadn’t been as effective as the staff would like. Management decided to make it more intentional by creating a position and hiring her in 2018.

“You have to have a dedicated person,” Nussbaum says. “Everence has spent years dabbling in different diversity and inclusion training. They didn’t really have a strategy; they just knew it was the right thing to do. When they brought me in, they created the strategy to become more diverse in our workforce and for our clients. We’re currently celebrating our 75th anniversary. So, how do we make sure our organization is still in existence 75 years from now?” 

Nussbaum underscores that DEI is complex and having buy-in from senior leadership is critical. “It’s not just an HR function. It’s not one area,” she says. “It’s actually an organizational strategy to be diverse.”

Walker agrees that everyone in the credit union must be dedicated, especially the board. She says that because of all that has happened in our country in recent times, conversations around equity—and race equity in particular—have been pushed to the forefront. 

“There’s an opportunity here for the board to lead with authenticity,” Walker says. “You can’t expect the organization to grapple with these issues without having some leadership at the top.”

Walker explains, “It’s really important for the board to lean into that space because for so long, it has felt like an uncomfortable space. … We have been socialized not to talk about racial and ethnic diversity—at least here in the U.S. And now we can’t get past it. If you just turn on the TV or read a newspaper, we’re seeing stories and headlines that are bringing these issues front and center.”

Walker stresses that because board positions are voluntary and already require dedication from members, the board must also be willing to make a long-term commitment to this issue that can be sustained through leadership transitions at credit unions. She says that even if a credit union is working with a consultant, the staff and board members need to ultimately own the work.

“Always, I’m looking for the champions who will keep this going because it’s not going to happen by itself,” she says. “And it’s not for the consultant to do all your work. Even if a consultant is guiding, at some point, that consultant needs to be able to step back and know that you have done enough work to integrate new practices to really create a culture shift that is sustainable.”

Walker says that part of sustaining the culture shift is being mindful that this work is not just a “one-and-done” conversation. Be thinking ahead about your next champion, for example, if you currently have a champion on the board that will be rotating off. You don’t want to have to return to square one with your efforts. 

Harris also says leadership backing is imperative and adds that it must extend to employees as well. “We [at Kaleidoscope] have a model called stakeholder ownership, where everybody has to play their role of ownership,” he says. “The champion, or sponsor, enforces how they own it, but everybody needs to own it if it’s going to make a difference.”

Furthermore, Harris says, leadership has to empower people at all levels of the organization to give real feedback on what changes are needed and then execute those changes.

Vernetta Walker
President/CEO
Vernetta Walker & Associates Consulting
There’s a business case, there’s a moral case, and there’s an economic case for diversity, equity and inclusion.

2. Define How You’ll Do It 

Since joining $1.9 billion Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union, Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2017 as VP/diversity and inclusion, CUES member Dionne Jenkins has made DEI training a priority by incorporating it into the credit union’s new hire orientation. 

“I designed the training in a way that allows new employees to see how it pertains to the job,” she says. “I give specific examples of members that come into the credit union, what they may look like, what their account balances may look like, and different scenarios of how that encounter may go and how the employee should handle it—no matter who the member is. I put it in a perspective that they can understand and that is specifically job-related.” 

Since Jenkins’ role of VP/diversity and inclusion was new when she stepped into it, she had to retrain employees who were there before the diversity program. Jenkins says this has been effective, and that employees frequently report back to her of having the exact scenario from a training session take place, in the branch or on a call, and how confident they felt in their ability to appropriately handle the situation because of their training. Similarly, others who started before Jenkins came on board have lamented to her that while they wish they had had the training earlier, they now know how to handle various scenarios in the future. 

Jenkins notes it’s important when creating scenarios for training to not present it in a way in which employees may feel that you are using them as an example of what not to do or how not to handle a situation. This can lead to employees discounting what is being said or shutting down. 

“What I find to be successful in our training is making it relevant and sharing real-world experiences, but also sharing it in a way in which people don’t internalize and feel like it’s a personal attack on their character,” she says.

Marvin York, CPM, VP/contact center member engagement at CUESolutions Silver provider PSCU, St. Petersburg, Florida, and founder/strategic leader of PSCU’s African American business resource group, Sankofa, recommends employee resource groups, which he says are now evolving into business resource groups, as another initiative to support DEI in credit unions.

ERGs are employer-recognized workplace groups, voluntarily led by employees, to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. They are usually led and participated in by employees who share a characteristic, whether it’s gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation or interest. The groups exist to provide support and help in personal or career development and to create a safe space where employees can bring their whole selves to the table.

“ERGs have been around since the 1960s when Black workers at Xerox were discussing race-based tensions in the workplace,” York says. “They are important because we nurture the groups, giving those in them the comfort to be their true selves and bring their full selves to work. The creativity that is generated by this is priceless.”  

With this in mind, York founded Sankofa (an African Swahili name meaning “to nurture”) at PSCU to champion its best and brightest African American professionals through mentorship and scholarship opportunities. (CUES has developed a custom development program for PSCU that will initially serve African American employees.)

In creating an effective ERG, York strongly encourages having an executive sponsor. “Appoint leadership in these roles in order for it to be successful right off the bat,” he says. “You have to have a strong leader, a visionary in that role and, once you do that, then you can start to shape some of the key initiatives you need.” He recommends the following guidelines: 1) Create a mission statement and goals; 2) establish guidelines and a structure for the ERG, meaning how the chapters are established, finances for that chapter and meeting functions; and 3) determine how leaders are selected. 

Jenkins formed something similar that she calls an inclusion council and is open to anyone at the credit union.

“I was very intentional about calling it an inclusion council because I wanted our workforce to understand it was fit for all,” she says. “I try to have individuals representing different parts of the population in different demographics so that we have a voice for everybody in the council. We talk about what we want to do and how we want to move forward. I enjoy that because I am a team of one and we have roughly 400 employees. As much as I would love to say I know what everybody needs—and I know what each demographic is looking for—I don’t. So, having a council to help me think things through has really been helpful and beneficial.” 

Lisa Koenecke, a DEI facilitator and author of Be an Inclusion Ally: ABCs of LGBTQ+, specializes in counteracting unconscious bias and boosting LGBTQ+ inclusion in business, using a three-word model: show, shift and shape. In working with credit unions, she encourages them to show they are invested in diversity and training through increased intercultural marketing; shifting the mindset by, for example, shifting dollars to support a marginalized group in the community; and shaping policies to enumerate everyone.

“This is more than just human resources,” Koenecke says. “Everyone has to be on this page. Because if you have a member who comes in and looks like Jonathan Van Ness from ‘Queer Eye’ ... wearing a skirt and a beard, how are you going to treat that person? What if you get a phone call from someone who has a really low voice? Is your frontline staff trained to say, ‘Hello, sir?’” What if the person on the line is a transgender woman?

3. Create Goals and Measure Effectiveness 

A successful DEI training program will require the creation of goals, consistent measuring and ongoing conversations with stakeholders in your CU. 

Harris says that Kaleidoscope’s work with organizations focuses on five areas: the diverse workforce; the inclusive workplace; how you attract, manage and serve the diverse market; your reputation in diverse communities; and how you spend money when you’re doing your business with various vendors.

Kaleidoscope works with the organization to establish a business case, a vision of success, determine the desired impact, create and implement the strategy, and hold leaders accountable. They begin by assessing where the organization is today and reviewing the challenges it faces, what it’s doing well, and where there are opportunities to do better, defining early on how success will be measured.

If you’re going to start an ERG, York says to track and measure the goals that you set, such as succession planning. Take a look at the top leaders of your organization. What do they look like? Do they look like the staff? And do they look like the members they are serving? Take a look at the glass ceiling that is there. 

“There are glass ceilings in all organizations where, for example, IT, is stereotypical, you don’t see women or African Americans leading those organizations,” he says. “If we’re serious about making a change in opportunity, then it should be an HR hiring practice. It should be woven into that. Those things can be measured and then actually graded and projected when you’re going to hit a goal or make a change.”   

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Goals and Measurements

collection of colorful old wooden rulers

Businesses measure their success against their strategic goals as a way to know how they’re really doing. When it comes to your diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, what are reasonable goals? What metrics should you be tracking?

Lisa Koenecke, a DEI facilitator and author of Be an Inclusion Ally: ABCs of LGBTQ+, specializes in helping businesses counteract unconscious bias and better include members of the LGBTQ+ community. She identifies these five goals to aim for:

  1. Increased employee retention
  2. Increased employee engagement
  3. Fewer complaints to HR
  4. Reduced sick days
  5. More people promoted from within a variety of populations and identities

Chris Jones, founding partner of SpectraDiversity, a Minneapolis-based diversity and inclusion company, recommends doing a diversity and inclusion assessment at key points along an organization’s DEI journey as a way to measure progress.

You can also: 

  • measure employee turnover among protected status employees; and
  • tie diversity hiring and promotion measures to management bonuses or salaries. cues icon


Formerly a member of the CUES marketing staff, Felicia Hudson Hannafan is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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