Feb 24 2015

Five Challenges: Enhancing Women’s Leadership in Credit Unions

Gender matters. Women feel more valued when working for a female CEO. Men feel more committed to the credit union when serving under another man. These and a thousand other gender nuances profoundly affect both sexes as they strive for leadership positions. For more than a year, Melissa Thomas-Hunt and Mahak Nagpal of the University of Virginia have worked with the Filene Research Institute and the World Council of Credit Unions to study the state of women’s leadership within credit unions. Drawing upon organizational and social psychological literature about women’s advancement in the workplace in general, they examined dozens of specific factors that support or thwart women’sleadership within credit unions. In addition to the report, we have created a slide deck that illustrates the key findings. Download here

In an attempt to separate the faint signals above from on-the-ground realities in credit unions, we conducted a survey of credit union employees and board members mostly in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. We administered a 76‑question survey with an online survey tool. Hardly any respondents, men or women, reported overt bias or blatant discrimination. Instead, we found many small factors that eat away at career advancement for women in credit unions. What follows are a few of the most pressing challenges we discovered:

  • Pipeline problem. Women often start working for the credit union in lower-level roles and in departments that don’t lead directly to the executive suite.
  • Leadership style and perception. Women seem slightly more likely across asset sizes to use authoritarian styles, but they also perceive themselves as having less power and influence than men.
  • Leadership climate. Employees at credit unions with female CEOs perceive themselves differently and act differently than those at similar credit unions where a man is in charge. Among other differences, men feel their skills are significantly more valued when there is a male CEO; women feel more valued working for other women.

 As credit unions address these and many other challenges, they will root out the leadership discrepancies between men and women. But the research work is not done; we conclude with suggestions for additional research to better understand the gap. And close it.

Report Number 351