Standing Up for Diversity
World Council’s Global Women’s Leadership Network empowers credit union women around the globe.
By Susan Mitchell and Sarah Snell Cooke
We recently returned from the World Council of Credit Unions Conference in Singapore where it was inspiring to see so many leaders from around the world, many of them members of a group that has come to mean so much to us. The Global Women’s Leadership Network was born in 2009 after WOCCU’s CEO Brian Branch, Ph.D., noted the absence of women in senior management and board roles in credit unions. “When we asked the women what would be most helpful, they asked for a global peer network with whom they could connect and consult with about their work and their career,” he says.
Branch reached out to me, Susan Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Stankovic & Associates, to be the founding chair, as I shared his vision for female empowerment and financial inclusion. Women around the world have told us that they wish to advance and contribute professionally, but they face real obstacles: safety, politics, child care, family responsibilities, gender issues, respect, confidence and educational preparation for the regulated environment.
More than 2.5 billion households worldwide do not have access to a safe place to save their hard-earned money or take out loans, and women are 20 percent less likely than men to have a formal financial account at an institution. Women influence 65 percent of discretionary spending, but their representation within the economy and in leadership remains unbalanced. Of the 217 million credit union members worldwide, not even half are women, and even fewer credit unions are run by women.
Startling but true. More than 20,000 payday lenders in the United States serve a diverse population of people, including many single mothers who cannot get access to financial services. WOCCU realized that this was not just an issue in less advanced countries—it was an issue globally.
“The vision of the Global Women’s Leadership Network is to provide women with the opportunity and resources to make a measurable difference in each other’s lives, as well as in the lives of credit union members and in their communities.”
Credit union women and men worldwide stepped up and, because of that leadership, GWLN is making a difference today. Starting as an annual forum during the World Credit Union Conference in 2009, the organization advanced to include localized GWLN Sister Society meetings with volunteers donating their time to advance the GWLN vision. CUES member Joe Schroeder, CEO of $880 million Ventura County Credit Union, Ventura, Calif., and Kim Hester, former EVP at CUES Supplier member CO-OP Financial Services, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., suggested we ask the men to wear pink ties to demonstrate their support. Brilliant! There are now pink scarves, shawls, bow ties, socks, you name it! GWLN stands up and stands out at any event.
Now, more than 2,500 men and women from 78 countries advocate for women’s access to finance and professional empowerment. In 2018, hundreds of people have been attending local GWLN Sister Society meetings and supporting each other around the world. Women are emerging as leaders from remote villages in Africa, Nepal, Myanmar, Ukraine and Macedonia. More than 500 new members were added in Asia, WOCCU announced at the July World Credit Union Conference in Singapore.
Women around the world are sparking new movements. With the leadership of key CEOs for many years and with the continued support of the WOCCU board of directors, we expect there to be more than 75 sister societies in major cities around the world (including 42 in the U.S.) providing education, such resources as professional clothing to help women start again, resume-writing for people entering the workforce and mentoring—and pushing the envelope to advance women in leadership positions. Read some of their stories.
GWLN’s action plan to advance initiatives includes the following 10 items:
- Determine real obstacles within your country, your community and your credit union, and evaluate ways to overcome the issues.
- Benchmark your current position to get a better understanding of diversity composition and to facilitate action.
- Engage men in the conversation, as their support is critical to awareness and can build momentum towards progress.
- Raise visibility and consumer awareness, because credit unions can enhance their value proposition through initiatives that better represent their memberships.
- Increase women’s access to financial services by creating new products and services that are customizable based on individual situations and needs.
- Focus on diversity within your credit union’s membership, because the cooperative movement is only relevant if it relates to people—and the world is changing to be more diverse.
- Create succession plans that include diverse representation on boards and teams.
- Share resources and knowledge globally, as GWLN is an international network reaching women worldwide to help overcome real obstacles.
- Mentor and develop talent within your credit union, the industry and the community.
- Volunteer in World Council field development programs to enlighten, strengthen your purpose and re-engage in the impact credit unions can make to change lives.
Donations and volunteers make up our core. Today, GWLN is recognized as one of WOCCU’s model global credit union programs. More than $2.3 million has been raised to provide scholarships, member education, empowerment grants and programming that facilitates opportunities for credit union women.
GWLN is committed to making a measurable difference around the world. Key contributions of GWLN include:
- providing 47 scholarships to women from 22 countries;
- working with WOCCU’s project development team to access $5 million from USAID to rebuild communities torn apart by war in Ukraine and to place women in leading roles;
- adding $500,000 to WOCCU’s project development work in Kenya, now reaching 15,000 small farmers, including female farmers who often carry the major production responsibility in rural areas but have limited access to credit;
- creating an ambassador program to reach out and support initiatives around the world, including Brandi Stankovic, USA; Martha Rozen, Latin America; Bryn Conway, USA; and Shana Richardson, Asia;
- introducing mortgages through credit unions in Haiti, previously unheard of for people who are not rich;
- hosting the first Executive Readiness Summit in 2017 for 50 select credit union leaders, with plans to expand this to two summits in 2018;
- representing GWLN on the World Bank’s women’s empowerment panel;
- donating more than 1,500 articles of clothing, school supplies and materials to women starting over or getting their first position; and
- establishing the Emerging Leader Award in 2017 to honor young women who are contributing to the industry and building careers that will influence future generations of CU leaders.
This is an important time for WOCCU and GWLN. Together, we are changing people’s lives, and our journey is just beginning. We recognize there is much to do and, with the commitment of volunteers, sponsors and the international credit union movement, we will push forward with new initiatives, new programs and new networking opportunities. How can you get involved? Visit CUWomen.org and register to become a member and sponsor to stand up for diversity and financial inclusion. Or, contact Lisa Person for more information.