The power of listening can help change the world. Providing a space to listen helps people share different perspectives. By doing this, we can work to embrace and celebrate them in our work and personal lives.
This became clear to Jonathan Walker, VP of Loan Analytics and his Civic Federal Credit Union colleagues at a leadership training in 2019. That moment of realization set a journey in motion that continues to impact people within the credit union, its members, and the broader community to this day.
“We put people first every day, that is our mission here at Civic” said Walker. “But it was the realization that we are the people, too that motivated us to take action, to find ways to help build empathy within our organization, and by doing so, help us to better serve our members.”
A Culture of Openness
In the spring of 2020, there was unrest in communities across the nation. Protests, angst and frustrations were escalating to levels not seen since the 1960’s. This small group of Civic employees met to explore ways to give colleagues more opportunities to talk with each other and share their feelings and perspectives. Jonathan Walker was nominated by his colleagues to chair the committee, bringing his leadership and enthusiasm for life-long learning to the role.
Walker and the team scheduled the first meeting for all employees in June 2020 with an open dialogue format to help encourage people to share topics that were on their minds. And did they ever. According to Walker, there was a lot of passion at this meeting and a lot of internal hurt and frustrations about the world around us. “It became clear that we needed to foster a culture of openness for all of us to be inclusive and supportive,” Walker said.
By the spring of 2021, Civic’s Learning & Development team and the newly established Diversity and Inclusion Committee were providing a regular cadence of monthly programs and on-going engagement opportunities. These include guest speakers and the creation of an intranet site with resources such as videos, podcasts, educational modules, books, and articles.
Moreover, there is a major focus on the 8th Cooperative Principle. As a credit union and cooperative model, Civic abides by the original Seven Cooperative Principles, a set of philosophical tenets established in 1844 that illustrate the core values, economic model and governance practices of cooperatives. Maurice Smith, Civic’s CEO, helped to champion the successfully added 8th Cooperative Principle, a resolution to add diversity and inclusion to the principles that govern credit unions.
Mr. Smith shares that credit unions offer financial services to remedy social conditions. “….now imagine a community that lacks the basic ingredients for financial enablement. Everything good that financial resources do for a community now become a broken dream in its absence,” continued Smith. “Credit unions came along to fill this gap. From my point of view, the most important benefit we give a community is a sense of hope.”
Walker agrees wholeheartedly and believes that any diversity and inclusion journey is just that: a journey. “We are all still learning and everything is not equal - the work of credit unions is to serve the underserved,” he said. “As a true cooperative, this mission holds true.”
DEI as Part of Culture
Almost two years later, the goal for Civic’s DEI program remains to provide opportunities that can help set the tone for diversity, equity, and inclusion for today and tomorrow. And it is to be more than a program. It is to be part of the corporate culture at Civic.
To best accomplish this, Walker and the DEI team are focusing on data for insights about how to better serve the people of North Carolina through an inclusion standpoint. With more than 10 million people, North Carolina has many diverse perspectives. “Our mission is to understand challenges, provide help, and to Maurice’s point, provide hope,” Walker shared.
The one thing that connects us all is being human, according to Walker. This program helps colleagues have a better understanding of different perspectives and strengthens how they serve each other and the people of North Carolina.
It is inclusion in every way.