Co-op Financial Services commits $500k to women’s leadership scheme

The network works to address the industry’s gender gap and provide more opportunities for women involved in credit unions

Co-op Financial Services (CO-OP) has announced US$500,000 (£405, 700) in funding for the Global Women’s Leadership Network over the next decade.

The news comes as the network – set up in 2009 by the World Council of Credit Unions (Woccu) – celebrates its tenth anniversary. The network was created to address the industry’s gender gap and provide more opportunities for women involved in credit unions.

A credit union service organisation, CO-OP made the announcement at a 10-Year Celebration Reception at the 2019 World Credit Union Conference.

Five of the 2019 GWLN Scholarship Award winners

“Around 50% of our workforce are women, and 63% of our management team, from senior up, are women. And it’s something we think is important,” said Samantha Paxson, chief experience officer for CO-OP.

“We were the founding sponsor of Global Women 10 years ago and we think it’s important on the 10-year anniversary to continue that.”

Related: Mentorship program welcomes world’s women credit union leaders

A first donation of $50,000 (£40,570) will be made in 2020, with other annual donations over the following nine years.

With the addition of a sister society in Cambodia, the Global Women has reached its goal of adding 100 sister societies worldwide. These are local groups set up a to bring together credit union women to discuss various issues, exchange ideas and share lessons learned with network members worldwide.

Elevations Credit Union board member Nancy Herbert accepts the 2019 Athena Award from Brian Branch

The celebration included an awards ceremony, with Elevations Credit Union taking home the 2019 Athena Award, in recognition of its donation of time, money and effort in creating the GWLN mobile app, launched in March.

“This is another in a long line of endeavours where Elevations stepped forward and decided to lend a helping hand,” said Elevations board member Nancy Herbert.

Every year, the network awards scholarships to female leaders in the credit union industry so they can attend the World Credit Union Conference. This year’s conference, which is currently taking place in the Bahamas, welcomed six scholarship winners. Since 2009, GWLN has awarded 51 scholarships to women from 23 countries.

GWLN members heard from three women who gave different perspectives on leadership and teamwork. Erin Wolf, managing partner at SuiteTrack, gave a presentation on teamwork and feedback.

Related: Midcounties celebrates the women of co-op history for IWD

Two executives from CO-OP spoke at the forum: chief people officer Cheryl Middleton-Jones discussed the skills for successful networking, while chief experience officer Samantha Paxson talked about shifting leadership norms by embracing traits once seen as detrimental to leadership.

“When I was young and starting out in business I was told to keep my head down and take direction,” she said. “But what I found was, when I was authentically myself and I sought to understand the people that work around me, or beside me—the product team, the sales team—the more I thought about creative ways to help solve their problems, the more I personally moved up and the more challenges I was able to solve for my company.”

She also urged executives in the audience to move away from an exclusive approach to leadership, to one that is more humanistic and inclusive.