Canadian Credit Union Association

Championing DEI within the Credit Union Sector

Since their birth in the 1900s, credit unions in Canada have been committed to serving their members with high-quality and personalized financial services while staying true to the strong ethical values they choose to uphold: honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others. Within these values remains a mission deeply rooted in honouring and including all communities and groups through purposeful initiatives. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI, is at the core of these values.

To help paint a picture of what DEI means to credit unions and how DEI initiatives are being implemented in credit unions across Canada, CCUA had the pleasure of interviewing four prominent voices within the sector for their input. They are: Lizna Husnani-Puchta (Coast Capital Savings, BC), Michelle Gagné (Prospera Credit Union, BC), Marianne Jurzyniec (Affinity Credit Union, SK) and Gwen Wiens (TCU Financial Group, SK).

From the DEI victories and the challenges to pushing DEI forward, to the future of DEI within the credit union sector, these four credit union leaders share their unique perspectives on the present and future of diversity, equity, and inclusion in Canada’s credit union sector.

DEI Represents a Commitment to Identifying and Addressing Barriers

Although DEI is not a new concept, many organizations are unfamiliar with the vital role it plays, especially for individuals who have ever felt excluded or unrepresented.

“DEI holds a deep personal significance to me, rooted in my own journey,” explains Lizna Husnani-Puchta of Coast Capital Savings. “As a Muslim, South Asian woman with a disability, I’ve encountered Islamophobia, racism, sexism, and stigma. These experiences, while challenging, have profoundly shaped my perspective on the importance of DEI. For me, DEI goes beyond being the right or smart thing to do; it’s about fostering a sense of belonging.”

Reflecting on what DEI means to her, Marianne Jurzyniec of Affinity Credit Union also shares that, “DEI is about embracing diverse perspectives, acknowledging, and valuing differences and creating equitable opportunities. It is a commitment to creating structures, policies, and practices that support inclusive, representative participation while identifying and addressing barriers.”

DEI Helps Credit Union Employees Feel Valued and Respected

A cohesive company culture stems from employees feeling welcomed in an environment where they spend many hours of the day. For Canada’s credit unions, other than serving their members and communities, their focus lies within their employees’ happiness and sense of belonging – this is where DEI comes into play.

“The impact of our DEI initiatives at Prospera have been far-reaching and are at the heart of our culture and our five values, which includes ‘embracing diversity in all forms’ as part of our focus on cultivating trusting relationships,” Michelle Gagné of Prospera Credit Union says.

In fact, Gagné reveals that her credit union’s efforts to strengthen DEI within her organization have paid off, based on the results of a recent employee engagement survey where 97% of employees indicated that Prospera is a safe place to work and 94% stated they are treated fairly, regardless of their race. The bottom line is that once credit union employees feel valued, welcomed, and are empowered for their individuality, it sets them up to create more meaningful relationships with their members and their community, which is why DEI is an integral component to credit unions.

Internal Training and Workshops are the Start of the Journey, not the End

Implementing steps to increase DEI within your organization is no small feat. While shifting policies, adopting procedures, and new initiatives within an organization are vital to enacting change, true success lies in having these principles ingrained in the foundation of how your business operates.

“DEI needs to be infused into the very fabric of everyday work,” says Gwen Wiens of TCU Financial Group. She also adds that, “having a DEI lens on everything we do can make a tremendous difference and can create an organization where everyone has a sense of connection and belonging.”

While honesty, inclusivity, and openness are charming words to use within any organization, true change comes when you put those words into action. For Canada’s credit unions, they don’t just talk the talk – they walk the walk too.

Affinity Credit Union, for example, has moved the dial in DEI by using inclusive language at their organization, providing diversity-focused educational opportunities, prioritizing employee health and wellbeing, celebrating cultural events, and inviting employees to share their culture, language, and history.

Coast Capital Savings Federal Credit Union partnered with DIVERScity to help 30 skilled newcomer women navigate the recertification process in Canada, fund credential evaluation, additional training, relicensing exams, and more.

Creating resource groups is also an important measure when establishing DEI into your workforce. Prospera Credit Union’s overarching message is ‘You belong at Prospera,’ so in support of that commitment, this credit union introduced four employee resource groups including Prospera Women’s Network and PossAbilities for employees with disabilities and allies.

The DEI Journey: There’s still a Long Way to go and it Starts at the Top

While credit unions are making great strides in ensuring employees and members feel included, represented, and treated equally, DEI remains an ever-evolving concept and there is always room to do more. There are still many barriers that credit unions need to overcome when it comes to DEI.

“Unconscious bias and stereotypes can create barriers to inclusivity, as staff may not be aware of their biases or may unintentionally perpetuate harmful stereotypes,” Gwen Wiens says. “It’s important for credit unions to actively work towards creating a more diverse and inclusive environment through offering diversity training, promoting inclusivity throughout the organization and actively connecting with their communities.”

In fact, the barriers that credit unions face in the DEI space can take many forms such as, “racism, lack of inclusive resources such as multilingual services and wheelchair ramps, as well as a need for products and services to better serve the needs of diverse memberships including newcomers to Canada, and the need for more diversity in leadership,” Michelle Gagné says.

Imagine a world where true gender equality existed in the workplace? Well, when it comes to gender parity, Canada’s credit unions are leading the charge. As value-based financial institutions, credit unions in Canada understand the importance of empowering women to reach their full potential on a path toward a truly vibrant and inclusive credit union sector. For reference, while 30% of CEOs in the Canadian credit union sector are female, more could be done to move the needle regarding representation within leadership roles.

“In my role, I consistently observe the significant impact that diverse leadership has on decision-making processes,” Lizna Husnani-Puchta says. “I recognize the power of seeing oneself represented in leadership roles. It serves as a symbol of possibility and inclusivity within our organization. It communicates a vital message: success and leadership are accessible to all, regardless of background.”

The Future of DEI – What’s in Store for 2024?

While a new year has just begun, credit unions are already gearing up and planning their next steps to increasing diversity and inclusivity. TCU Financial will focus its efforts on building connections and belonging amongst its staff through a monthly staff newsletter. The credit union will also partner with marketing and corporate social responsibility teams, “to see DEI initiatives extend to its communities through awareness, sponsorship and volunteerism,” Gwen Wiens says.

Similarly, Affinity Credit Union, plans to continue seeking diverse perspectives.

“As we listen and learn, we’ll align existing initiatives along with future goals into a plan that guides our work over the next few years,” Marianne Jurzyniec says.

While all four credit unions have different strategies to enhance DEI at their institutions, they all share one common theme for 2024: prioritizing indigenous reconciliation. At Coast Capital Savings Federal Credit Union, reconciliation and awareness measures include its partnership with Rise Consulting, an Indigenous-owned consultancy firm known for its ‘focus on advancing Truth & Reconciliation in Canada.

“Our goal is to deepen our understanding and respect of Indigenous cultures and histories, and integrate these insights into organizational practices and ethos,” Lizna Husnani-Puchta says.

Michelle Gagné also adds, “We’ll draft and share our organizational commitment to Truth and Reconciliation and start to document our progress in support of Indigenous employees, members, and neighbours in our communities.”

While the path to full integration of DEI in the workplace is different for everyone, many credit unions have already undertaken a responsibility to maintain current DEI practices and implement new ones in the hopes of fostering an inclusive and welcoming space for both their employees and members. After all, credit unions are not just financial institutions, but rather financial institutions driven by a social purpose to serve its employees, members and communities. And this all starts with diversity, equity, and inclusion.

CCUA would like to thank our series of credit union experts for providing their valuable insights and perspectives on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:

  • Lizna Husnani-Puchta, Senior Manager, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and Accessibility Lead, Coast Capital Savings
  • Gwen Wiens, HR Specialist Employee Experience, Diversity & Wellness, TCU Financial Group
  • Michelle Gagné, Manager, Communications and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Prospera Credit Union
  • Marianne Jurzyniec, Social Responsibility Manager, Affinity Credit Union