Golden 1 Credit Union is a worthy winner of the inaugural John Pembroke Catalyst for Change Award.
A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is intrinsic to the culture of $20 billion Golden 1 Credit Union, based in Sacramento, California. The credit union views DEI as a journey and is intentional with every step, aligning its internal and external efforts to achieve greater impact. Internal efforts have resulted in a greater sense of belonging among the credit union’s 2,100-plus employees, while external efforts are making a positive impact on the people and diverse communities that Golden 1 CU serves throughout the state of California.
“At Golden 1, DEI is so much more than three letters,” says Erica Taylor, VP/communications and community relations. “Our commitment comes from the top down, starting with the strategic guidance of our board of directors and the hard work of our senior leadership, including our president/CEO, Donna Bland; our chief people officer, Heather Andrade-Neumann; our VP/DEI culture and talent, Desirée Thompson; and many other employees throughout the credit union.” (Bland and Andrade-Neumann are CUES members.)
In recognition of its efforts, Golden 1 CU was chosen as the winner of the inaugural John Pembroke Catalyst for Change Award, named in honor of the late president/CEO of CUES who was passionate about advancing DEI in the credit union movement. The award goes to a credit union that has demonstrated sustained support for advancing DEI in the workplace, raised awareness of workplace diversity and inclusion, and supported positive change within the industry, their organization and their community. Golden 1 CU excels in all these areas.
“When we learned that we had received this award, we were absolutely thrilled,” Taylor says. “This recognition is a milestone in our DEI journey. It confirms we are doing good things, and it motivates us to do even more.”
With over 1 million members, Golden 1 CU is the sixth largest credit union in the United States and the second largest in California, with nearly 70 branch and home loan centers serving people throughout the state. The DEI commitment is evident in the workplace at Golden 1 CU, with women and BIPOC well-represented at all levels of the credit union.
“We have a diverse and multigenerational workforce,” Taylor says. “Ensuring that all voices are heard and that multiple perspectives are listened to is a key part of our DEI journey. Our DEI program seeks to create a culture of belonging where employees can be their authentic selves, and by being authentic, they can do their best work.”
Much of the responsibility for implementing internal DEI measures falls to Thompson. Like Taylor, Thompson is thrilled that the Catalyst for Change Award provided recognition for the credit union’s efforts. “While we have accomplished much, we are aware that our work is not finished and are so very excited for what’s next,” Thompson says. “Our culture and workforce are the real winners of this award. They are the true drivers of what we do and how we create an environment where employees feel a sense of inclusion and belonging.”
Consistent with CU Ideals
Golden 1 CU’s adherence to credit union ideals is a key reason the organization excels in its DEI efforts. “Credit unions were founded on the values of inclusivity, belonging and equity, and Golden 1 has lived those values since our founding in 1933,” Taylor says. “However, we’re always looking for ways to do things better. We aim for continuous improvement, and DEI is an important part of that. Internally, we’re looking for ways to be more inclusive and ensure that we have a culture of appreciating different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives that will continue to make us stronger.”
To continue enhancing its workplace culture, Golden 1 CU moved forward in 2021 with an initiative to analyze its strengths and weaknesses in DEI. This multi-phase process consisted of focus groups, employee surveys, executive interviews, inclusive leadership assessments and a comprehensive talent management audit. The credit union also developed a DEI strategic plan and initiated specific measures to support the organization’s goal to become a more inclusive and equitable workplace.
One of the important objectives of the process was to confirm that there are equal opportunities for advancement throughout the credit union. “That was a key takeaway in our process,” Taylor says. “Unconscious bias training for leadership has been helpful in that plan, ensuring there are pathways for everyone.”
Another result of the process included the launch of employee resource groups through which individuals with shared interests and backgrounds, along with their allies, can connect to build a sense of belonging while supporting personal and professional development. Employees provided feedback to ensure the groups formed addressed their needs. As a result, six groups were established: LGBTQ+, Women, AAPI, Black Heritage, Latiné and Caregivers.
“The ERGs serve as a platform to help foster diverse and inclusive work environments and as a source of feedback for leadership,” Taylor says. “They promote awareness and understanding of different perspectives, provide a greater sense of belonging, and enhance our company culture.”
Taylor adds that there are opportunities within the ERGs for employees to serve as group leaders. “We’ve had an outpouring of interest, with many volunteers wanting to participate and wanting to lead.”
A Commitment to Community
Golden 1 CU’s process of expanding its DEI commitment internally mirrors what the credit union is doing externally. The credit union has had a strong corporate-giving program in place for well over a decade, and in 2023, the organization took its community involvement efforts to a new level.
“As we evaluated our giving program and what we do to serve those who need help—specifically, marginalized communities—we took a look at how we could pivot our focus to include social equity and take a more active role in serving underserved populations,” Taylor explains.
As a result of this evaluation, Golden 1 CU has made a $10 million commitment to strengthen equity and economic inclusion in Sacramento’s Del Paso Heights neighborhood, a long-neglected, high-poverty area with a predominantly minority population just north of downtown Sacramento. The credit union’s commitment consists of a five-year targeted investment to support key community organizations and projects.
In announcing the Del Paso Heights initiative in July 2023, Bland stated, “Golden 1 is committed to creating a more equitable and financially inclusive California and, through this targeted investment, we want to help break the cycles of multigenerational poverty and trauma, build trust, and create brighter futures for our neighbors in Del Paso Heights.”
Golden 1 CU worked with a community advisory committee consisting of local leaders and residents to design an investment plan for the neighborhood encompassing community, economic and opportunity pathways to improvement. “Directly engaging with members of the Del Paso Heights community helped us identify the largest neighborhood needs and how our investment could make the biggest impact,” says Bland.
Today, Golden 1 CU is actively involved with neighborhood organizations, engaging in volunteer activities and facilitating free financial education classes and workshops. The CU is also hosting job fairs, an intern and mentorship program, and provides scholarships to high school students in the community. Additional goals include enhancing the neighborhood’s aesthetics, expanding support services, ensuring financial stability and generational wealth building, economic revitalization, and creating greater educational and workforce opportunities for youth.
“We believe this type of targeted investment can be catalytic for the neighborhood,” Taylor says. “We’re hopeful that our efforts will help create a brighter future for our neighbors in this area. The path is significant, as we look to become the preeminent provider of financial services with an eye toward inclusivity.”
Golden 1 CU made its commitment to Del Paso Heights even more tangible by establishing a financial resource center in the heart of the neighborhood. Newly opened in December 2023, this facility is designed to help build residents’ personal financial empowerment, providing education, products and services unique to their needs.
“We’ve designed this new financial resource center to be so much more than a branch,” Taylor says. “It will be a place where people can come for one-on-one consultative conversations and receive expert help and guidance, wherever they are on their financial path. If you’re establishing credit, if you’re buying a car, if you’re moving into home ownership or getting ready to retire, we will be there to help you get to that next step.”
As a low-income designated credit union, Golden 1 CU is responsive to the needs of underserved communities like Del Paso Heights. “What we offer is dependent on what the community needs, what the community asks for,” Taylor says. “We are working on products and services that we can add to our already rich slate of offerings to ensure that there’s something for everyone, wherever they are on their journey.”
With Del Paso Heights as a guide, Golden 1 CU plans to broaden its investment to other communities in need throughout California. Bland describes this type of investment as consistent with Golden 1 CU’s obligation to be a present and accessible financial partner in areas that need it the most.
“Del Paso Heights is a part of our community,” Bland says. “These are our neighbors, our friends, and the children here are our future. Businesses and leaders have a responsibility to help the most vulnerable members of their community live a life where they can contribute and thrive in a meaningful way.”
Starting the DEI Journey
For credit unions that have yet to begin their DEI journey, the leaders at Golden 1 CU have some helpful advice to get them started. Taylor recommends that credit unions begin the DEI process by listening—to their employees, to their members and to multiple voices in the communities they serve.
“From the very start of our DEI journey, we listened internally to ensure that our employees had a voice,” Taylor says. “With our Del Paso Heights investment, we also started by listening. If we want to be sure we’re providing our communities with the best possible support, [we] have to start by asking them what they need.”
From her vantage point of enhancing internal DEI culture and talent, Thompson recommends that credit unions make a lasting DEI impact by actively engaging their workforce and investing in empowering resources. “This approach enables employees to take control of their careers and shape their future,” she says. “Furthermore, emphasizing allyship fosters organic employee interconnectedness and promotes an inclusive workplace.
“Additionally, aligning DEI efforts with business objectives while regularly assessing and adjusting strategies based on diverse perspectives ensures sustainable and impactful initiatives that meet evolving needs,” Thompson advises. “By combining these approaches, credit unions can build a workplace where diversity, equity and inclusion are integral.”
Credit unions also would do well to follow Golden 1 CU’s approach of treating DEI as a journey—always being ready to take the next step. With every intentional step that the organization has taken, Golden 1 CU has become more closely aligned with DEI ideals.
“There’s a strong belief shared throughout the credit union that the best is yet to come,” Taylor says. “We’re committed to DEI, and we’re only going to get better and better.” cues icon
Based in Missouri, Diane Franklin is a longtime contributor to CU Management magazine.