How to cultivate more women in leadership roles in credit unions

It's 'difficult' to identify women for executive positions, warned Calyn Ostrowski of the Global Women’s Leadership Network

Women are not reaching senior level positions within credit unions because many are not “coming through the system”, warn experts.

This situation – known as “the pipeline” problem, has been studied by the Filene Research Institute for Global Women’s Leadership Network. The results were discussed at its first annual Executive Readiness Summit, which aims to promote women in leadership positions.

The event was designed to address one of the key barriers preventing women from reaching top senior executive positions.

Calyn Ostrowski, who leads the Network and is executive director at the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, said: “Women often start working for credit unions in lower-level roles and departments that do not lead directly to the executive suite.

“Simultaneously, conversations with credit union recruiters and HR directors noted the difficulty of identifying women to join the pipeline for open c-suite positions.”

Ingrid Vanderveldt, chief executive of the initiative Empowering a Billion Women by 2020, told the summit that, while women controlled 80% of the global wallet, 91% of women felt advertisers did not understand them. More women in executive positions could help fill that gap, she argued.

Erin Wolf, the facilitator of the two-day summit, who is managing partner at SuiteTrack, added that unwritten rules of business may be holding women back from the c-suite. “While 70% of smaller credit unions may be run by women, only 14% of the billion-dollar credit unions are led by a female CEO,” she said.

“Before you disrupt the rules, you have to know there’s a game going on,” she added.

Ms Wolf explained how rules such as “if you’re 20% ready, you’re 100% ready” would apply. Women often make sure they have all the skills necessary before moving into a higher position, whereas men are entirely confident at 20% readiness, she said.

CommunityAmerica Credit Union CEO Lisa Ginter advised participants to always identify and then fill the skill and knowledge gaps they find during their executive leadership climb.

On the second day of the summit, CU Innovate CEO Stacie VanDenBerghe gave the example of the 1967 Boston Marathon in which Kathy Switzer was the first woman to register under her own name and run, despite the race director trying to yank her off the course.

She said the story was a great leadership lesson. Never let anyone intimidate you, work for and with people who believe in you, know your value, no one will believe in you if you don’t believe in you, never stop learning, and you don’t have to be liked to be respected, she advised delegates.

Participants at the summit also completed a DiSC assessment, which helps determine one’s personality and identify strengths and weaknesses to work on. After receiving the results they engaged in a conversation with Erin Wolf and other speakers, who analysed the reports and gave feedback.

Delegates were provided with a personal action plan to guide the way to the C-suite Summit.

“Our goal is to maximise your talents so you can be equipped with skills that make you bigger, better, and bolder leaders tomorrow; ultimately leading to an increased ready-now and ready-soon pool of C-suite candidates,” said Ms Ostrowski.

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