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Shattering the glass ceiling – up to a point

At first glance, it would seem that women are doing a better job of breaking the glass ceiling at credit unions.

Fifty-two percent of credit union CEOs are female, compared with 5 percent of publicly traded bank CEOs and 6 percent for Fortune 500 CEOs, according to an analysis from the Credit Union National Association.

But a closer look shows those statistics are far more complex. Many of those female executives lead small credit unions, which tend to pay less. Their ranks drop significantly as institutions increase in asset size. That means more work can still be done in getting women into the top spots at financial institutions.

“Women consumers impact purchasing decisions and financial services sources, said Susan Mitchell, CEO of the consulting firm Mitchell, Stankovic and Associates. “Linking [diversity awareness] to a strategic initiative for the credit union will help with growth and build awareness.”

Almost 58 percent of credit unions with $250 million in assets or less have a female CEO, compared with just 12 percent for publicly traded banks of the same size. But that drops to about 14 percent for credit unions – and less than 4 percent for banks – when looking at institutions with $1 billion to $3 billion in assets.

This makes sense given that the majority of credit unions are smaller.

“We can’t compare [the two] exactly because banks are a lot larger,” said Jordan van Rijn, a senior economist at CUNA. “It doesn’t make sense to compare credit unions to JPMorgan and Wells Fargo. We try to compare to financial institutions on similar stages.”

And although it is a positive that so many credit unions are female run, having their numbers concentrated toward the smaller end presents some challenges. For instance, small credit unions tend to pay less than larger ones. Smaller credit unions also seldom have large bonus opportunities and often no retirement plans, Mitchell added. All of this can help perpetuate a gender pay gap.

“The difference in pay is evidenced in the asset size of the credit union,” Mitchell said. “CEO compensation within credit unions is primarily determined by asset size, so there is an implied gender pay gap if women are not represented in the larger credit unions.”

Brian Branch, president and CEO of World Council of Credit Unions, echoed Mitchell, citing studies done by his organization that showed globally smaller credit unions were paying lower salaries compared with their larger counterparts.

But smaller credit unions also tend to provide more flexibility and require less travel. Some women may choose to stay with smaller institutions given those benefits. Flexibility can help with child and elder care, which still often fall along traditional gender lines, Branch added.

“In the larger credit unions, we found that there was more time in the weekends and the evenings away from home so it was more difficult for women in some of these other countries to be away from home like that,” Branch said.

Mitchell is also chair of the World Council’s Global Women's Leadership Network, an organization devoted to empowering women in and out of the workplace around the world. The network includes 35 local chapters in the U.S.

WOCCU also advocates on behalf of women by holding the Executive Readiness Summit, an event that promotes getting women into executive-level positions.

The summit features networking, education and other forms of support, according to Lena Giakoumopoulos, program director of World Council of Credit Unions. It gives women a chance to discuss issues they may face advancing in the workplace, such as “how many times [they] walked into a board room and they were the one and only female,” Giakoumopoulos said.

The network was opened up to men last year.

“We want the males in our industry to join in, work alongside us and help us grow,” Giakoumopoulos said.

Education and advocacy are two important components in promoting gender equality. But women executives also need sponsors at their jobs, said Davia Temin, president and CEO of Temin and Co., a management consulting firm. Sponsors are different than mentors. They will advocate on behalf of someone else when it comes time for a promotion or a big assignment.

“You need people to be saying the right things about you when you’re in the room,” Temin said. “And that is highly effective in getting women in the executive committee and the most senior levels of leadership.”

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