Addressing the gender gap in credit unions

Women are underrepresented in credit union leadership roles around the globe with males predominating chief executive roles. This is especially the case in smaller credit unions, where numbers...

Women are underrepresented in credit union leadership roles around the globe with males predominating chief executive roles. This is especially the case in smaller credit unions, where numbers in the United States show that most female leaders serve at credit unions smaller than $50m. These figures, published in a report by the Filene Research Institute and World Council of Credit Unions, revealed five key challenges in enhancing women’s leadership in the sector.

The research shows that women tend to work in lower-level positions and in roles that do not lead to executive positions. Women also perceive themselves as having less power and influence than men. Other challenges include the existing leadership climate and the fact that mentors and mentees tend to group towards their own gender. The report demonstrated that there is still significant opportunity for credit unions to realise the promise of female leadership.

The World Council’s Global Women’s Leadership Network was set up for this purpose – striving to connect credit union women globally and engage them in professional and personal development through online and in-person educational platforms. Members are encouraged to become more active in their credit unions, share ideas and experiences, and explore international perspectives on the common challenges that face the industry. Over 900 women from 53 countries have joined the network to cultivate their leadership potential since it started in 2009. Members can attend the Networking Breakfast at CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference and the Annual Leadership Forum, take part in local chapter meetings, called Sister Societies, and vote and participate in the Network’s Scholarship/Empowerment Grant programmes.

The Leadership Forum takes place in conjunction with the World Credit Union Conference (WCUC) and connects credit union women from around the globe; this year, the Forum took place on 12 July in Denver, Colorado. The keynote speaker was Ingrid Vanderveldt, one of Fortune’s 55 Most Influential Women to Watch on Twitter, host of CNBC’s American Made, and previously the first entrepreneur-in-residence for Dell. Currently, she is CEO and chair of Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 and sits on the United Nation Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council.

Members also benefited from a Networking Reception and access to the Networking Lounge which held events throughout the week such as the International Sister Society Workshop and white paper luncheons.

Through the Sister Societies initiative, 23 branches have been set up in nine different countries including the USA, Canada, Fiji, Jamaica, Malawi, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand, and Trinidad and Tobago. These local chapters were created as a spinoff from the yearly Forum as attendees wanted a way to keep the conference momentum going throughout the year. Sister Societies meet between two and four times a year to create awareness, inspire women in the industry, and collect money and goods for local non-profits empowering women. Anyone, male or female, member or non-member, can attend a Sister Society meeting to learn more about the network.

As part of the mission to empower women worldwide, the Network provides annual scholarships to emerging female leaders within the credit union industry. Successful candidates receive financial support to attend the the world conference and participate in the Leadership Forum. Additionally, scholarship recipients have the opportunity to apply for an Empowerment Grant which provides funds and peer-to-peer support so they may increase access to credit, loans, savings, and leadership opportunities for women in their communities.

Elenita Sanroque, chief executive of the Association of the Asian Confederation of Credit Unions (AACCU) was one of the winners of last year’s scholarship. “The project is meant for a co-operative in the Philippines called Paglaum Multi-Purpose Cooperative (80% operation is financial services). They have an outreach of 35,000 women who are accessing MF loans from the co-op. However, performance shows that the program is unable to finance larger loans because of the low absorption capacity of members. Lack of entrepreneurial skills and market opportunities are constraints in enabling poor women run viable and innovative enterprises,” she explained.

“The project goal is to establish a fully functional Business Development Center (BDC) that will provide training on business management skills, facilitate new business ideas, link them to market, provide information etc. and train them on financial literacy. The co-op opened the BDC last March 2015, trained the staff and some 25 women. The training replication is ongoing. The project has set a start up to put in place a mechanism to help women carry out a sustainable business enterprise that will consequently free them from poverty. PMPC has staff to train, has structure to support the women and build staff competency on financial literacy to ensure that members money are managed,” she added.

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