Goal To Diversify CU Management

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As credit unions continue to diversify everything from their products and services to their fields of membership, another type of diversity has become a long-term project for the group: diversification of CU leadership.

While credit union members come in all colors, most of those in credit union and trade association management who will have an off-day for the Martin Luther King Day holiday this week remain overwhelmingly white.

The African-American Credit Union Coalition's Reaching Toward The Future internship program is seeking to change that.

"The internship program goes toward the mission of our organization: trying to assist in providing diversity in the credit union movement," said Bert Hash, chairman of the AACUC's internship committee and CEO of Municipal Employees CU of Baltimore. "This hasn't made a huge difference yet in getting African-Americans into the leadership of the movement, but it's a start."

Now in its fifth year, the internship program has seen more than 100 college interns, most of whom have come from historically black colleges. While many of the credit unions that welcome the interns into their organizations have African-Americans at the helm, not all of them do-Navy FCU is a notable example. In fact, at least one of the participating organizations isn't a credit union but is an AACUC partner: Fannie Mae.

A number of interns have gone on to begin credit union careers. Evonne Gibson, HR recruiter for Aberdeen Proving Ground FCU in Maryland, is one such example.

"I found out about the program at the career center at school," Gibson told The Credit Union Journal. "I applied because I was a human resources major, and I wanted real business experience before graduating. Because they were looking for African-American students, this was a great oportunity for me, since I am both a minority and female."

Though Gibson had heard of credit unions prior to applying for the internship, she said she had lots to learn about what a credit union is, as well as about her chosen field.

"I learned the difference between credit unions and banks. The credit union is a trusted partner focused on serving member needs. The bank is looking for what money they can make off a person; they're profit driven," she explained.

But perhaps the bigger lesson had to do with the opportunities out there for Gibson and other African Americans-if only they knew about them.

"When I was in high school, all I wanted was to be a lawyer. I wanted that big corner office with the window, and I thought that was the only way to get it," she related. "But now I understand that I can do that in any position in any industry."

But Gibson knows that hasn't always been the case. "I've seen a lot has changed within credit unions and within all industries," she commented. "African-Americans have been prospering in many industries, and there has been a lot of growth. There are African Americans and women in our executive department here at the credit union, and I have a lot of respect for that."

While Gibson doesn't have that coveted corner office just yet, she is serving in a vital position at Aberdeen Proving Ground FCU. "HR recruiter is a key position in any organization," said Genene LaCour, Gibson's supervisor. "She is screening and selecting people who fit in with the organization, have the skills to be successful and can be ambassadors of the credit union philosophy. Her position requires her to be flexible with people and to be able to assess people's skills."

As Gibson was getting her education, she didn't know what industry she wanted to work in, she just knew she wanted to be in human resources. The AACUC internship not only introduced her to an industry she might otherwise have overlooked, but it gave her crucial career opportunity. "I took a risk, but it has worked out," she said of her now full-time job with APGFCU. "I can actually say that I love the environment here. The people I interview often say 'Everyone's so friendly here.' It's a very warm environment, and I love that."

After her internship was over, Gibson stayed in touch with the contacts she made. During her tenure as an intern, she shadowed a member of APGFCU's HR department. When that person went on maternity leave, the credit union asked Gibson if she would fill in until the person returned from leave.

"She really did take a leap, because we were asking her to take a position for a finite time," Lacour offered. "Her internship had prepared her so well. We were able to add a position to our organization, and she has stepped into that role and hit the ground running, and she has been running ever since."

As for APGFCU, the internship program was a perfect fit from the very start. "Diversity is one dimension of it. We want our credit union to be reflective of the communities we serve, and the AACUC helped us in that direction," Lacour ntoed. "But we also feel very strongly about education-eduating our members, educating our employees. It was a natural fit for us to be part of an internship program."

And such programs are exactly what minorities and credit unions need, Gibson suggested.

More Diversity Programs Needed

"I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot about my chosen career, in fact, I learned if it was what I really wanted to do," she observed. "If we want to see more diversity we need more internship programs, more career development programs. Assessment tests don't necessarily do enough. We need more mentors within college, more alumni involved with seniors, more coaching and mentoring. I would say the same holds true for credit unions. These types of programs help make people like me aware of the opportunities we have and give us the skills to succeed."

Hash agreed. "It's a pleasure to talk with the interns. I was talking with one young man, and he is much further advanced in his career than I was at his age," he recalled. "The internship program makes them aware of the opportunities that exist for them in credit unions and the corporate environment. It also addresses a major challenge for everyone in the credit union movement: the need to attract and retain good people is a challenge for all of us. This is a beginning."

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