Elevating Female Voices

illustration of six different diverse women standing with hands on their hips
Lena Giakoumopoulos Photo
GWLN Program Director
World Council of Credit Unions

4 minutes

The Global Women’s Leadership Network empowers credit union women around the world.

Despite efforts for gender equity in the workplace, there is still a lot of work to be done in the battle for true equality.

“Here we are in 2021, and we are still talking about women and diversity in leadership in the credit union system,” says Teresa Freeborn, president of $5 billion Kinecta Federal Credit Union, Manhattan Beach, California, and Global Women’s Leadership Network Chair. “Why haven’t we moved past this? The long answer is that many corporations and credit unions haven’t figured it out. Corporate culture, historical barriers or a host of other organizational issues are still obstacles; we simply haven’t addressed the challenges in any meaningful way. There is still a large percentage of current leadership that does not understand or acknowledge how bad the problem is. For starters, if you have 75% of your workforce as women, wouldn’t it make sense to have close to the same percentage as part of your leadership team?”

Across the globe, women continue to face increased challenges due to gender inequality, including health disparities, pay inequity and violence (both sexual and/or racial). As a result of the gendered economic impacts of the pandemic, 47 million more women will be pushed into extreme poverty in 2021, and gender poverty gaps are projected to widen in the coming decade.

The Global Women’s Leadership Network is a key resource for information, networking and support, equipping unions and financial cooperative to be part of the conversation, take action and work toward solutions. By engaging with member credit unions (both staff and volunteers), local Sister Societies, boards and industry partners, GWLN is focused on taking a holistic view to actively work toward closing the gender gaps in leadership roles and investing in credit union women around the globe.

To emphasize the sense of urgency for the work that still needs to be done, nearly 150 GWLN Sister Societies on six continents have hosted meetings with women leaders from both within and outside the credit union space.

GWLN Sister Societies serve as a platform to discuss issues among credit union peers, seek solutions, engage with local community organizations and work toward narrowing the inequality gaps. Among the topics for discussion are building diverse teams, diversity, equity and inclusion journeys, financial wellness, fostering leadership skills, racial disparities, personal mission statements and many, many more.

Speakers have included a Supreme Court Justice, the first African American to lead the United States Tennis Association, and the only millennial to direct a statewide government agency. Welcoming women in law enforcement and protective services, health services, sports, politics and technology, Sister Societies work to further GWLN’s global mission by making a local impact.

In the credit union sector, women recognize the amount of power that can be harnessed through collective support and action in the advancement of women in leadership roles. To that end, female leaders are prioritizing bringing other women along into leadership positions, creating opportunities to invest in women’s careers, and providing mentorship and executive sponsorship to assist aspiring women in their personal development. Recognizing that diverse perspectives make good business sense, credit union women and men have become champions for advancing women into board and executive leadership positions.

We must continue celebrating women’s achievements across the credit union and cooperative ecosystem and realize we are all part of this economic recovery. At GWLN, we are celebrating women who are passionate about the diversity, equity and inclusion journey. The CU industry must take action and reinforce the foundations that have been built for a strong, collective voice to ensure women receive equal opportunity for advancement.

To create truly diverse organizations in an inclusive industry, we need to examine the multilayered, intersectional pieces of the organization while confronting the fact that people don’t fall neatly into different statistical boxes. This is essential if we want to hold our organizations accountable.

According to the recent World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, women will have to wait for gender parity, as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt. Closing the global gender gap has increased by an entire generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years, pushing back the progress on gender equality for generation!

Since its establishment in 2009, the Global Women’s Leadership Network has been committed to working toward eradicating systemic inequalities by providing women with the opportunities and resources to make measurable differences in their own lives, in the lives of credit union members and in their communities.

Our goal at GWLN is to lead, mobilize, convene and partner with our industry to take action holistically, in the advancement of women in leadership roles. Elevating female voices and engaging men in the process will result in steady progress toward gender equality.

Lena Giakoumopoulos is the GWLN program director, Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions.

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