Bringing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to the Credit Union Space
A word from Paul Kundert, President & CEO
Several years ago, I was introduced to UW Credit Union’s founders by a local historian. Since then, I’ve imagined how pleased our founders would be with the many accomplishments of the credit union they established almost 90 years ago.
But lately there’s been some tension in our relationship.
When our founding board convened in 1931, four of the nine board members were women. The board was a mix of religious affiliations, including Protestant and Jewish, as well as agnostic and atheist. Some were U.S. born and some were immigrants.
They had all been active in the battle for equality – for women’s rights, workers’ rights, civil rights, human rights. One board member pioneered the concept of unemployment compensation insurance. One proposed a formal statement of non-discrimination for the University of Wisconsin. One helped promote educational opportunities for immigrants.
During my tenure, UW Credit Union has taken positive steps toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Would that be enough for our esteemed founders? I don’t think so.
We know DEI leads to better service, better solutions, greater productivity, and an enriched member and employee experience. I believe our organization’s success in the coming decades will depend on our ability to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace through strategic, deliberate, explicit initiatives and change management. But how do we get there?
Sometimes you need to ask an expert.
In 2019 we welcomed Sheila Milton as UW Credit Union’s Director of Cultural Competency & Inclusion. Sheila is partnering with our senior leaders, human resources, talent development and talent acquisition, looking at it all through a DEI lens to make sure we address every opportunity to improve and strengthen our practices and policies regarding DEI.
DEI must be integrated into our organization as a priority that’s practiced by everyone and owned by our leaders. But implementing more diverse and inclusive practices at UW Credit Union is only the beginning.
We must build a movement in the industry.
UW Credit Union is supporting an exciting and unprecedented new research center led by Filene, an industry think tank with a proven track record of insights and innovation that lead to meaningful change.
Their new Center of Excellence for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will tackle research from new perspectives to help develop actionable ideas, such as industry-wide benchmarking to monitor progress and guidelines for the implementation of best practices.
It’s no small sum we’re donating to support Filene’s research – $250,000. But it represents the importance that we as an organization place on this cause. As a member-owned financial cooperative we’re careful with our money, our giving is done with great thoughtfulness and respect to our members and communities.
To fully realize our DEI goals, I ask every employee and leader to be the change. Only we can create an environment where all employees thrive and every member is represented.
I’m excited to share outcomes as Filene’s research develops. It’s work that will benefit not only UW Credit Union but the entire financial industry and beyond, and I’m proud that we’re raising our hand and helping lead the charge. We’ve made some big strides, but the journey has only just begun.
About UW Credit Union
UW Credit Union is a growing, federally insured financial institution and a leading provider of a full range of financial services to University of Wisconsin communities. UW Credit Union's over 700 employees serve the financial needs of more than 270,000 members through world-class technology systems, and through a convenient network of 28 branch locations and over 100 ATMs. With assets of $3.3 billion, UW Credit Union is ranked nationally among the leading credit unions. Founded more than 85 years ago by members of the University of Wisconsin community, UW Credit Union continues to operate as a not-for-profit, member-owned financial cooperative with locations in the Madison, Milwaukee, Stevens Point, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Whitewater and La Crosse areas.