Ask an Exec – Volume 20

As part of our “Ask an Exec” initiative, each quarter BCEL members will be asked to submit questions to our featured executives. Questions will be compiled and one random BCEL member’s questions will be highlighted on our website.

For this edition, Roanne Weyermars, VP, Public Affairs, Communication & EDI at Coast Capital Savings, and Armita Seyedalikhani, VP, Marketing and Communications at BlueShore Financial, share their insights on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Questions:

1. What is your advice for time and expertise spent on DEI at a credit union being valued and quantified by existing leadership.  Often this work is seen as “side of desk” instead of a critical contribution to the long-term success of the organization.  How can I help my organization see time invested in DEI as contributing to longer term success when short term metrics fail to really quantify the value of it?

2. How do you showcase that your organization is implementing DEI initiatives in a way that is authentic and impactful vs. performative?

3. How can you lead change for DEI from the middle of an organization when you aren’t formally a leader but want to make an impact?  What advice would you give young leaders who want to lead change for diversity, equity and inclusion in their credit unions from non-leadership roles?

Roanne Weyermars, Coast Capital Savings

What is your advice for time and expertise spent on DEI at a credit union being valued and quantified by existing leadership. Often this work is seen as “side of desk” instead of a critical contribution to the long-term success of the organization. How can I help my organization see time invested in DEI as contributing to longer term success when short term metrics fail to really quantify the value of it?

In my experience there are a couple of connected approaches that together, can be effective in gaining leadership understanding and buy-in.

The first is to connect DEI with our values and roots as credit unions. As a part of the financial cooperative movement, credit unions were founded on people helping people with a focus on the underserved. As recent events have shone a light on historical and continued oppression, racism and discrimination in our communities, it’s clear that credit unions have an important role to play in addressing inequities and advancing inclusion. The seventh cooperative principle “concern for community” speaks directly to this. As credit unions and business leaders, we have a responsibility to move past our discomfort, grow our understanding, lean into our humanity and use the power of our organizations to contribute to lasting change.

The second is to shine a light on the business case for DEI and how prioritizing DEI is important to our long term success. Many experts and practitioners have voiced concerns over the implication that there must be economic grounds to justify investing in people. While I agree that we need a broader vision of success that includes equity and human dignity, I have also witnessed that helping leaders understand the benefits and risks of DEI can cultivate allyship.

The business case for DEI has been building for many years and includes benefits such as increased innovation, financial performance, employee engagement, consumer insights and brand value as members seek out organizations committed to social impact. In fact, a lot of the research I am reading shines a light on the risks of NOT prioritizing DEI. Consider mapping the benefits and risks to your specific organization including its aspirations and challenges and I’m willing to bet you will be able make a case for why DEI matters in the short and long term!

I would also add that moving DEI off of the side of the desk is a work in progress. Don’t give up, be kind to yourself and remember that your efforts are making ripples that will build to a wave.

How do you showcase that your organization is implementing DEI initiatives in a way that is authentic and impactful vs. performative?

This is a question I am frequently asking myself as a DEI practitioner and communicator.

I’ll start by saying that often, our greatest opportunity to make a difference starts inside our workplaces where we can implement programs, practices and policies that remove barriers, create opportunities and foster a culture of inclusion. It’s critically important to share progress in these areas with employees and engage employee voices in where we can do better. 

I also firmly believe that talking about DEI initiatives and leveraging our brands to advocate for inclusion can spark positive social change. For example, we can use our communications to elevate underrepresented voices, diverse role models and centre experiences that fall outside of the dominant culture. By leaning into the mantra “nothing about us, without us”, we help ensure our work is truly inclusive, accurate and authentic.

We can also showcase our progress and impact in a way that demonstrates accountability, shows leadership and inspires others to take action. Doing so authentically usually requires embedding DEI into your organization through real actions that will lead to better outcomes for equity-deserving groups.

While storytelling can get to the heart of the issue, include data to support the difference you are making (or aspiring to make).

How can you lead change for DEI from the middle of an organization when you aren’t formally a leader but want to make an impact? What advice would you give young leaders who want to lead change for diversity, equity, and inclusion in their Credit Unions from non-leadership roles?

There are so many opportunities to lead change from where we are at!

Start by educating yourself on the issues, understanding your own identity and taking time to listen respectfully to others who hold different experiences from your own. There are countless recommendations out there for what to read, watch and listen to. Then consider what you can do based on your role, organization and passions. This could include being an active bystander when you witness subtle acts of inclusion. It might mean joining an affinity network or employee resource group at your organization. Or rallying a group of employees to take part in Orange Shirt Day and learn more about reconciliation. Consider how you might bring in a guest speaker to deepen understanding or partner within your community move the needle.

I’m a big fan of the PRESS model by Dr. Robert Livingston and I think it provides an excellent guide for organizations as well as individual allies. (PRESS stands for Problem Awareness, Root-cause Analysis, Empathy, Strategy, Sacrifice). DEI is human centred work and I like this model because it builds empathy through understanding vs. rushing to straight to solutions. Empathy affects how we take action and I believe it also empowers us to dig deep inside of ourselves when we encounter challenges or are graced with the opportunity to learn from mistakes of our own – two things that are inevitable in DEI work!

Armita Seyedalikhani, BlueShore Financial

What is your advice for time and expertise spent on DEI at a credit union being valued and quantified by existing leadership. Often this work is seen as “side of desk” instead of a critical contribution to the long-term success of the organization. How can I help my organization see time invested in DEI as contributing to longer term success when short term metrics fail to really quantify the value of it?

While your organization may not yet have the metrics to quantify the value of investing in DEI, there is ample research out there to support this point. Having a DEI strategy has become table stakes and an important component of an organization’s people strategy and in turn overall business strategy. There’s a great deal of reputable research demonstrating how organizational performance is enhanced by diversity. 

To bring this important work from “side of the desk” to a priority initiative, our approach at BlueShore was to create a business case identifying how a strategic investment in DEI, both time and dollars, would benefit and bring value to our clients, our employees and our organization as a whole. It’s also an important factor in helping to reduce organizational risk. Helping your organization see the value of investing is often about putting it into the right terms – speaking the same language as your leadership who ultimately want to do the right thing and what’s best for the organization and its people. 

How do you showcase that your organization is implementing DEI initiatives in a way that is authentic and impactful vs. performative?

  • Recognize it’s a journey. Ensuring that there is buy in at the top is key to success because corporate wide commitment (project team, ELT, Board) is needed.
  • Establish and communicate benchmarks and recognize there will be mistakes and learnings along the way.
  • As part of our broader listening strategy, BlueShore involved employees in surveys and focus groups to dive deeper into the employee experiences to understand how and where we can improve the employee experience based on qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Our Learning and Development team curated leadership training that is interactive and includes homework and reflection to make it “stick” – exercises to filter it through to teams.
  • Cultural Ambassadors – key role to support the evolution of our culture, amplify the voices of all team members, and facilitate the roll-out of initiatives to support DEI
  • Share with employees through open communication (town halls, video, email)

How can you lead change for DEI from the middle of an organization when you aren’t formally a leader but want to make an impact? What advice would you give young leaders who want to lead change for diversity, equity, and inclusion in their Credit Unions from non-leadership roles?

DEI or IDEA (inclusivity, diversity, equity and accessibility) needs to be a component of every organization’s people and business strategy. For it to succeed, it needs to come from the top but has to be reflective “on the ground”. Non-leadership roles can more move the organization forward and are imperative. Work with your team leader and HR team and share your insights, issues and ideas with them – share what’s important to you because it is important to many of your colleagues and you can get the dialogue started and contribute to the tipping point.

On an individual level, you are empowered to lead from where you stand though your actions, the language you use and behaviours you model. Seek resources to better understand your own unconscious biases and consciously engage in being inclusive. In one of our leadership training sessions by the Neuroleadership Institute, Matt Summers said “If you are not consciously including, you are subconsciously excluding.”.  This resonated with many of us and has impacted how we communicate and engage.