Stand Up and Lead Others to Value Everyone

Hands making love heart shadow symbol of tolerance on gay pride rainbow colors painted on a textured concrete wall
By Zach Christensen, CUDE

8 minutes

8 concrete ways to do the right thing and reap the business benefits.

Only 4% of the members of Gen Z are credit union members, according to an article by CUESolutions provider Velera (formerly PSCU/Co-op Solutions) and “And that’s a problem,” the headline of the article asserts.

Why is that a problem?

It’s a problem because over the next 20 years, $84 billion will be transferred from older generations to younger people—and Gen Z is clearly not bringing those assets to credit unions.

It’s a problem because even while 20% to 28% of Gen Zers now identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, we are seeing pushback in the credit union space against diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts.

Considering all this together creates a very important question for credit unions. It might be an existential one:  Are we willing to risk that “the Great Wealth transfer” will happen outside the credit union movement?

If credit unions are not willing to become organizations that actively engage Gen Z by being inclusive and creating a broad sense of belonging, by standing up for those who need their voices heard, we are diving headlong into that risk.

With this in mind, CU Pride hosted its inaugural Stand Up Summit in early March before this year’s Governmental Affairs Conference. CU Pride’s launch in 2020 was the product of a 2018 conversation of the Underground, a forum for important industry conversations regularly hosted by Michell Stankovic & Associates. The idea behind having a “stand up” summit wasn’t that we stood during the event! It was rather that we invited people to share their stories and be inspired to stand up and better serve traditionally marginalized people.

A key summit conversation was how credit union leaders can help their organizations move forward not just by creating an experience of belonging for members of the LGBTQ+ community but how credit union leaders can create an experience of belonging for everyone, including those who need us most.

Debbie Wege, cooperative community advocate at $30 billion BECU, Tukwila, Washington, gave concrete examples of what her credit union has done over her 34 years with the organization to become ever more disciplined about its DEI work and engaged with and invested in its members, employees and communities.

Don’t say BECU is a large credit union and you couldn’t possibly do what they do. You can. There are lots of good things you could do, lots of ways to start, lots of ways to tailor ideas to your specific situation and lots of ways to continue to move forward if you’ve already begun. The time is now to position your credit union to not only do the right thing but reap the business benefits. Here are eight ideas from the summit that you can take action on today, tomorrow and beyond.

1. Involve Your Employees

A couple of years before the murder of George Floyd, Wege told the summit participants, BECU created a mantra supporting belonging, inclusion and leveraging differences for good. From that foundation, it formed its “BILD Council,” which included representation from all organizational levels and departments and many other facets of diversity. Wege said she was pleased to be part of the initial group.

“We were given … the freedom to talk about ‘what does it mean to really elevate belonging, inclusion and leverage difference?’” she said, noting that the council recommended leaning into employee resource groups formed around common interests, common bonds or similar backgrounds. At the time, the CU was already home to an ERG for veterans and another for women.

“I can now say that we have 10 very active, very engaged employee resource groups, including our pride advocacy collective,” Wege added.

2. Look at Your Policies and Benefits

Wege underscored how BECU’s domestic partner health insurance benefit came into existence “long before my long-term marriage was considered legal” and long before such insurance was mandated.

“That spoke volumes to me at that time in my life, and really opened the door for me to start thinking differently about the place that I worked,” she said.

BECU more recently encouraged everyone to put their preferred pronouns in their email signatures, also in support of the LGBTQ+ community. 

3. Incorporate Your Values Into Your Operations and Marketing

Wege noted that BECU is looking for ways to change its technology systems to promote inclusion and belonging. One of these will be making it easier for staff to capture members’ chosen names.

In the early 2000s, she added, BECU started investing in showing the faces of real members in every promotional piece it produces, from advertising to commercials.

“That included featuring same-sex couples, business owners and the like,” Wege explained.

BECU has also been a proud sponsor of Pride events in its community. 

4. Look at Learning

BECU first invested in diversity training back in 1998, bringing in a diversity consultant to create it, Wege said.

Let BECU’s longtime commitment to DEI training inspire you to take action now. You can find learning opportunities for yourself and your team members from these industry organizations:

There are many more opportunities to learn via colleges, universities and community groups as well as online. Go learn!

5. Face Your Fear of Putting Your Values Into Action

Wege told the story of one of BECU’s senior executives receiving a call from a longtime member with significant assets at the CU who objected to the credit union’s presence at a Pride event.

“I think this is wrong,” the member said. “And I’m going to pull (out of) my accounts if you don’t change this.”

Wege said the executive had the discipline to say, “We’re a cooperative. We’re a member-owned credit union. And we stand on a set of values and principles. Those values and principles include nondiscrimination, open membership and being there for our members—and that includes all of our members and all of our potential members. So, if those values and those principles don’t align with you as a person, then I understand, but maybe we’re not the financial institution for you.”

“That is huge,” Wege said. “That kind of discipline and support is the kind of thing that changes the game.”

6. Be Part of the Movement’s DEI Conversation

Living your values in your own credit union and community is important. You also can advance these ideas among the broader credit union community.

I can’t encourage you enough to get involved in the events—and the leadership—of the various organizations in our industry that specialize in being more disciplined, engaged and invested in those who need us most. See the ones in the bulleted list above and think about what time and talent you can offer them.

7. Sponsor the Industry Conversation

In addition to offering time and talent, being a sponsor of the industry conversation about truly being people helping people also matters.

“If you think about who we are, and what we stand for, as credit unions, this is what we stand for,” Wege said in the Stand Up Summit. “Not just CU Pride, but all of the aspects of inclusion and building bridges for people’s financial freedom, regardless of where they are in their life. … I’m proud of CU Pride and the work that you do to bring this forward. And BECU is definitely a proud sponsor and member of CU Pride.” In addition to being a member of CU Pride, BECU was a sponsor of this inaugural Stand Up Summit. CU Pride is also grateful to our Founding and Pioneer Allies, who sustain our organization year over year.

8. Know the Business Benefits

The cool bonus for standing up and doing any of the seven things I’ve already described is that you’ll reap clear business benefits.

At the beginning of this article, I described how creating organizations of belonging will appeal to the members of Gen Z, who are currently poised to be on the receiving end of an unprecedented wealth transfer. But that’s just one example of the many studies that have found organizations committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging have better business results. If you need to make the business case for DEI at your credit union, refer to:

  • Research published by Filene in 2022, which found that credit unions that had several, bundled DEI practices reported a higher return on assets and a higher net income than CUs without those bundles in place (,
  • The 2020 report from McKinsey, which found that companies across industries—not just credit unions—benefit financially from having DEI initiatives in place, and
  • Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2019, which found a clear link between employees’ sense of belonging and a thriving business organization.  

President/CEO of Mitchell Stankovic and Associates and founder of the Underground Susan Mitchell was preparing to speak at the Global Women’s Leadership Network luncheon at GAC when she wrote on the back of her napkin, “Lead Others to Value Everyone,” which became the headline for this piece. Oh, and by the way, that’s L-O-V-E.

Are you ready to stand up?

Zach Christensen, CUDE, is director, DEI & digital services for Mitchell Stankovic and Associates and executive director of CU Pride.


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