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Filene launches diversity research center

A new project from the Filene Research Institute aims to increase diversity initiatives within the credit union movement, advance research efforts and establish best practices.

The Madison, Wis.-based think tank launched its Center of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion earlier this month, the first of six research centers it will debut over the next year and a half. DEI-related issues have grown in prominence in the industry in recent years, to the point that some have called for an eighth cooperative principle focused on the topic. The National Credit Union Administration last year also held an inaugural diversity summit aimed at increasing participating in its own survey on the topic, the highest-profile gauge of diversity efforts across the movement. Only 81 credit unions completed the diversity assessment in 2018 — the equivalent of about 1.5% of the industry at the time.

Some have argued that while American demographics are becoming increasingly diverse, credit unions are not following suit – or at least not as quickly as they could be.

According to Taylor Nelms, Filene’s senior director of research, the center will work alongside industry groups such as the Credit Union National Association and the African-American Credit Union Coalition in addition to individual CUs.

Dr. Quinetta Roberson, who holds a Ph.D. from Villanova University, will be the DEI center’s research fellow.

The diversity center will be supported by several credit unions from across the country, including State Department Federal Credit Union, United Nations FCU, Suncoast Credit Union, Xceed Financial CU and University of Wisconsin CU, also based in Madison.

Sheila Milton, director of cultural competence and inclusion at UW Credit Union.
Sheila Milton, director of cultural competence and inclusion at UW Credit Union.

“This is important because we want to make sure that we have a CU where all of our employees feel that they belong and we want our members to feel the same way too,” said Sheila Milton, UWCU’s director of cultural competence and inclusion.

Part of the center’s research will involve surveying credit unions about their membership. Target sample sizes for the different research projects are not available at this time, though the group is planning a conference call next month with the five institutions backing the effort in order to discuss research goals.

Nelms said Filene plans to lay out the state of research and outline goals by publishing its first paper in the spring or early summer.

“There’s a whole range of visible and invisible forms of diversity that CUs need to take into account as they fulfill their mission and seek to grow,” Nelms said. “Even if you’re not explicitly thinking about DEI, you’re still making choices about it even if you don’t recognize it.”

In addition to the DEI center, other areas of focus include the changing financial lives of consumers; best practices for innovation; the effects of emerging fintech; the impact of financial institutions on communities; and the use of data management and analytics.

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