Women Find Your Voice Through an International Platform

painting shows women silhouettes speaking with thought bubbles
Lena Giakoumopoulos Photo
GWLN Program Director
World Council of Credit Unions

7 minutes

Join the global conversation about how to address the Great Resignation and redirect energy toward the Grand Recreation.

Are there things we can do on an individual level to make a difference in this global conversation for women in the workplace? For those who want to throw in their support but don't know where to start or feel like they don't have a platform to contribute in meaningful ways, what would do we say?

Questions similar to these came from attendees at the first CUES RealTalk! session, The Great Resignation, last month. I was given the opportunity to share thoughts and experiences about women in the workplace, the impacts of the pandemic and how we can address the Great Resignation.

For starters, I will reiterate that I prefer redirecting the focus and calling it the Grand Recreation. We need to reexamine how women are multitasking and juggling everything and say it’s OK for us to stay home right now and recreate how and when we’re going to return to the workforce and see what will come next.

For those who want to be part of the global conversation and make a difference in an individual way, GWLN is the ultimate starting point. GWLN is the only international networking platform designed to advance women in leadership in the credit union industry. By empowering women to become empowered leaders, GWLN narrows inequality gaps for women locally, nationally and worldwide.

Through GWLN’s work we see the differences, and similarities, of women advancing in leadership in the domestic and the international credit union space. Results of a first-time demographic survey of World Council of Credit Unions' member credit union associations showed women trail far behind men when it comes to credit union membership and leadership. According to the World Council 2020 Statistical report, when looking at leadership by gender, Europe has the largest percentage of women as credit union CEOs at 49%!  In North America, it’s only at 40%.

Let’s examine how GWLN members are finding their voice in the international credit union system.

The Philippines

In World Council’s November 2021 Global Credit Union podcast, Mary Rose Gob, knowledge resource center head/senior HR advisor for the National Association of Training Center for Cooperatives in the Philippines and GWLN 2021 scholarship recipient tells us that we need to bring women to credit unions and show them the cooperative principles and how this can benefit them as a person, their families and their communities.

Gob said that often women in the Philippines are not well educated in terms of savings. But through entrepreneurship programs and financial literacy programs (especially for women in rural areas) offered by NATCCO, and in conjunction with GWLN, they are working toward narrowing the inequality gaps.

“I was a manager and an educator, but I did not consider myself a leader. As a GWLN scholar I attended educational events and learned to find my voice. I felt empowered to see myself as a leader,” says Gob.


In the fifth largest country in the world, work continues to address the inequality gaps. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, women have more years of education than men. Though women make up roughly half of the workforce in Brazil, only 16% of companies have a female CEO.  

World Council’s member in Brazil is Sicredi, one of the largest credit union systems in the nation. Yet, there are 108 credit unions that belong to the Sicredi system and just three of them are headed by women.

Manfred Alfonso Dasenbrock is the Sicredi chair and World Council board director. Recognized as a 2018 Athena Award winner by GWLN for his commitment, dedication, and passion to advancing opportunities so women can thrive; credit unions can advance; and communities can improve. This resulted in the Brazilian movement making a tremendous impact on GWLN and the growth of Sister Societies.

In 2016, Sicredi worked with GWLN to establish Brazil’s first Sister Society (referred to as Women’s Committees in Portuguese) and the first in South America. There are currently more than 25 Sister Societies there and they all focus on providing services and learning opportunities to the Sicredi staff AND the women who are credit union members. Since 2017, through monthly meetings and an annual Women’s Leadership Summit, Sicredi has worked with its female members to enhance women’s leadership potential and expand diversity in the Brazilian credit union movement.

Engage Locally to Make an Impact Globally

Women factor into all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but most often when we talk about the work through GWLN, we reference Goal #5: Gender Equality. To help advance our work in 2022 and beyond and be part of the efforts for gender equality, we recommend:

  • Individuals first join GWLN as a member or consider extending a GWLN membership as a gift to your teams (women or young professionals).
  • Invite your teams to engage, connect to the local Sister Society and join any Sister Society meeting virtually by checking out the calendar of events here.

The GWLN Sister Society is the localized mechanism of credit union women and men meeting in cities, states, provinces and countries focused on personal development, credit union and community development. These groups provide peer professional development support for members with networking, career, leadership and executive coaching. They engage in local community work assisting battered women shelters, single mothers, local orphanages, family food assistance programs and youth empowerment programs. They coach graduating women on starting their careers and work with credit unions to address challenges for young professionals, both women and men. Other initiatives from international sister societies include delivering care and food support to facilities for women and children with physical impairments, providing relief goods containing ready-to-eat food and sanitary items to flood victims, and coordinating efforts with other cooperatives to assist their members when natural disasters occur.

Sister Societies continue to grow, and to date there are more than 150 on six continents. In 2021, GWLN welcomed Sister Societies from Hawaii, the Dakotas, Nebraska, South Africa and Zambia. You can see the full map here.

Due to the increased virtual component for meetings in our new world, we have seen increased engagement from GWLN members and Sister Societies going far beyond the geographic boundaries of their local Sister Societies throughout the pandemic.

For the US Sister Societies, the spectrum of topics covered during meetings this year included: emotional intelligence, leaders influencing corporate culture, concern for community, transitioning from coping to embracing, resilient leadership, race and gender, and why diversity, equity and inclusion matters.

From some of the international Sister Societies this year: Eswatini Sister Society (formerly Swaziland) went to the Gundvwini Soup Kitchen to donate food parcels and clothes. The Sister Society from the Central Region of Thailand launched the bag-making project for the self-employment of women and youth. Our Australian colleagues (Women in Mutuals) from the Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA) invited GWLN to join their convention and explore how embracing our values and strengths can change the future of the industry.

Take a look at the growing list of community organizations with which GWLN Sister Societies have chosen to connect with, donate to or contribute time to as a result of their meetings.

Keep the Conversation Going  

In the U.S. we are seeing people resign from their jobs in search of better pay, more flexibility and more fulfillment and stability. Many employees are re-examining what work means to them if they are appreciated and how they spend their time. The pandemic and our new reality has indeed given people all kinds of reasons to change direction and leave their jobs.

Looking ahead, credit unions need to analyze patterns in the industry and implement changes so that the many talented, educated women in the workforce can thrive rather than end up exhausted. The industry should approach the situation with care and humility in order to capitalize on newfound opportunities to not only retain employees but attract new top talent.

Keep the conversation going. Be intentional with your efforts. Invite GWLN to present to your business resource groups or affinity groups to connect with your peers in the international credit union system. Through GWLN, you can be part of an initiative that contributes toward forging a gender equal world.

As Elissa McCarter LaBorde, the first woman named World Council of Credit Unions' president/CEO said at last month’s #CUatREACH GWLN luncheon, “Women must redesign the table, not just sit at it.” 

To learn more about how to get engaged with GWLN, visit the page here. To make a donation to GWLN or any of the Worldwide Foundation initiatives, visit the donation page here.

Lena Giakoumopoulos is director for Global Women's Leadership Network, an initiative of the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions.

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