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Diversity and inclusion: Recurring themes at GAC
Tuesday, March 19, 2019 6:35 AM

Credit unions called to expand the work of financial inclusion to a widening sea of faces.

The Little Man Under the Umbrella dates to the 1920s as a symbol for the burgeoning credit union movement and was widely used for decades.

“The Little Man Under the Umbrella today is probably a woman of color,” CUNA Mutual vice president of multicultural and corporate strategy Eric Hansing told a breakout session on diversity on Monday at the Governmental Affairs Conference.

The iconic logo was created in 1923 by Boston Globe cartoonist Joe Stern at the request of credit union pioneer Roy Bergengren to serve as a “symbol for the average man, besieged by financial difficulties.”

Hansing pointed to a chart that made his point: 83.1 percent of credit union members 80 and older are non-Hispanic Caucasian. That falls to about half in the youngest demographics.

Credit unions need to grasp that reality, determine how different groups relate to the financial cooperatives’ products and services, and respond accordingly, Hansing said.

Diversity and the inclusion it implies was a theme at many points during the annual credit union family reunion, which CUNA said this year attracted more than 5,000 people, a new record.

Outgoing CUNA chair Maurice Smith, president and CEO of Local Government Federal Credit Union in North Carolina, has called for consideration of diversity and inclusion as an eighth cooperative principle. He said diversity presents “a prime opportunity for the credit union movement to further distinguish itself from other industries.”

CUNA president and CEO Jim Nussle also stressed that point at both the Small Credit Union Roundtable on Sunday and in his general session on Monday. “Members want to see themselves when they walk in your doors,” he told the Sunday session.

Nussle was referring to the workplace, of course. The Monday breakout session included a rundown on CUNA Mutual’s own extensive initiatives to create an uber-diverse workplace, which vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion Angela Russell said depends on “top-level support, long-term commitment, collaboration, recognition of early wins, and data.”

Speaking of data, CUNA policy analyst Samira Salem shared research that shows 52 percent of all credit unions are led by women, compared to only 5 percent of banks. Only 14 percent of credit unions of more than $1 billion have a woman at the helm, she added.

As for the members they serve, Salem said, her research shows that credit unions have a “very compelling story to tell” about the opportunity to serve underserved and diverse groups. “People of color feel they are more likely to get a loan at a credit union than a bank,” she said.