Is the Credit Union Movement Losing its Female Leadership?

Over the past several years, it appears that women are losing ground in Credit Union leadership, a trend that could prove detrimental to the movement as a whole. An article published by the Executive Director of the Foundation, Dr. Dan Santangelo, highlights the problem.

“Over the past 18 years from 1997 to 2015, women leading credit unions in the Mountain West Region (Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming) have seen a series of declines. In 1997, for example, 58% of Chief Executives were women in the Mountain West Region. Now the data reveals that over the past 18 years there has been a steady decline among women CEOs. The highest decline occurred in 2004 resulting in 6% fewer women leaders since 1997, the numbers have rebound since then but still tell the story of an overall decline. In 2015 what was once a 58% lead over their male counterparts, female leadership has now dwindled to only a 54% lead. What accounts for this disturbing trend, and perhaps more importantly, what overall effect does this have on members, employees (a primarily female workforce in some states higher than 70%) and credit union boards of directors.”

For those of us committed to furthering the Credit Union Movement, this information should cause concern.

According to a study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, having women in key leadership positions is directly correlated with increased profitability. While there is little difference in performance between male and female CEO’s, a 30% increase in the number of women in leadership positions was shown to increase profitability by 15%. That’s worth paying attention to.

Women have always played an important role in the Credit Unions Movement, and continue to do so, even in the present climate. According to this report, from Filene, 53% of all Credit Union CEOs are female. By comparison, only 4% of CEOs at S&P 500 Companies are women. While women are an essential part of credit unions around the world, they face systematic challenges that threaten their professional aspirations. It’s in our best interest to understand more about these barriers and what we can do to remove them.

The more we understand, the more likely we are to make positive changes in our industry.

Last year the Center for Credit Union Leadership released a ground-breaking study about what it takes to be a high performing leader in the Credit Union industry. Nine key leadership traits were discovered along with key insights into the commonalities that define their leadership style. Now that we know more about the attributes and traits of credit union leaders in the region (AZ, CO, & WY), the Center for Credit Union Leadership will focus its attention on women and credit union leaders.

As Dr. Santangelo explains, “What we know is that women in key leadership positions continues to decline and much work needs to be done to discover why. This work needs to aim at helping the credit union community understand why and what affects this leadership shift may have on the credit union cooperative nature, its general business model, and its credo of people helping people.”

I, for one, will be extremely interested in the insights obtained through this research. A Pew Research Center survey from 2014 indicated that Americans see women as being equally qualified to be corporate and political leaders. Four in ten respondents attributed the gender gap in leadership positions to women having to do more to prove themselves than their male counterparts.

What do you think? Do you think that might be a likely cause of the industry’s female leadership decline? What other factors are at play?

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.

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