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NCUA Board Member Rodney E. Hood’s Remarks at the NCUA’s 2023 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit

November 2023
NCUA Board Member Rodney E. Hood’s Remarks at the NCUA’s 2023 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit

As Prepared for Delivery on November 2, 2023

Thank you very much! I’m delighted to be here today, and I’m particularly excited by the level of participation at this year’s summit. When we hosted the first NCUA DEI Summit here in 2019, it was a one-day event. And while that was one of the things we launched under my chairmanship, of which I’m proudest, all I did was provide an initial push. It’s been thanks to the leadership of Chairman Harper that the DEI Summit has grown and thrived in the subsequent years. Thank you, Chairman Harper, for your vision and leadership in taking this event to the next level.

And even more importantly, we especially owe the success of this annual summit to the strong commitment of the NCUA family and all our attendees from the credit union world and beyond. You are the ones who have played the most critical role in making this event bigger and better every year. And you are the ones who are leading the way on the vital task of putting diversity, equity, and inclusion at the center of the credit union industry’s mission.

When we talk about DEI, most of us recognize that this isn’t something that’s completely new. We’re all well aware that a great many forward-looking government and business leaders began making the case for greater diversity in recruiting, hiring, and staffing as a response to changing demographics at least a few decades ago.

However, I do think we can recognize that what is new is the salience that DEI issues have taken on as they’ve become more elevated in the public consciousness over the last several years. That’s an undeniably positive trend, and it’s why we need events like this summit to continue moving these ideas forward and putting them into practice in our day-to-day lives.

I was looking back over my remarks from the first DEI Summit we hosted here four years ago, where I noted the benefits of DEI when it comes to productivity and organizational performance. I’m not going to repeat those points because I believe everyone here is well aware of the why of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The far more important challenge for us now is the how — that is, how do we implement DEI principles into our daily work lives and business operations to foster an environment that embraces people of all abilities, promotes inclusivity, and ensures that everyone has an opportunity to thrive in the workplace?

That’s where I believe this year’s summit has excelled because it shows how much more effective and results-oriented our thinking about DEI has become. When we look back at earlier diversity initiatives, it often seemed like they didn’t go far beyond representation based on head counts. You all know what I’m talking about: making sure the photos in the brochure reflect the right mix of skin colors and genders so we can check off the “diversity” box. And to be sure, those efforts were, in fact, rooted in good intentions — they simply weren’t sufficient in terms of impact.

Now compare that to some of the innovative ideas and approaches discussed in yesterday’s sessions, like strategies for recruiting and retaining young professionals or using publicly available Census data to better understand the needs of marginalized and under-served communities within your field of membership. These are constructive, creative, actionable steps that will go a long way toward advancing the DEI mission while helping credit unions to serve both their employees and their members more effectively. I think that’s tremendously compelling and long overdue.

Moreover, what we’ve seen in recent years is that our understanding of DEI priorities has grown richer and more varied. To take one example, a few years ago, there wasn’t a great deal of attention paid to how we might better meet the needs of formerly justice-involved individuals — that is, people who may have had a long-ago criminal record, often for minor offenses, and who have paid their debt to society and are looking to reintegrate into the workforce.

One of my first actions as chairman was to advance the “Second Chance” regulatory reform to provide credit unions more flexibility in extending hiring opportunities to applicants with past criminal records. That was an issue where the NCUA and the credit union industry were leading the way as the debate over criminal justice reform began to pick up steam in the years to follow. And just last month, we took an important step forward to clarify and codify the Second Chance initiative in accordance with the Fair Hiring in Banking Act.

In fact, more and more leaders in the larger business community are recognizing the wisdom of this approach. Two years ago, leaders in various private-sector firms and prominent business organizations formed the Second Chance Business Coalition to highlight these issues and to encourage lowering barriers to employment for Americans with criminal records. This represents an important cultural change within the U.S. business world, which we should welcome.

Or another example, one that’s also near to my own heart, is the recognition of the importance of religious faith for many workers. Just a few days ago, The New York Times published an article exploring how many corporate workplaces are grappling with providing people of faith with the same recognition and support that are provided to other identity groups. We also see a growing awareness of the needs of older workers, who often face subtle stereotyping and discrimination in the workplace. Or think about the renewed appreciation we have for meeting the needs of people with disabilities and how we can create a more welcoming workplace where they can make valuable contributions.

One point we should recognize in all these examples I’ve just listed is that the work we need to do will be necessarily challenging. No one ever said DEI would be easy. In fact, to sincerely embrace different perspectives and backgrounds requires a great deal of creativity, empathy, understanding, patience, and goodwill. It forces us to challenge ourselves to build the strongest, most resilient organizations we can build. That’s where events like today can be so important to help us better understand how to navigate these priorities in a way that is beneficial to our workers, our members, and all our stakeholders.

The most important thing we can do at the NCUA is to model DEI ideals in our own operations while providing credit unions with the tools, support, and guidance to incorporate those ideals into their operations and business plans. And we are seeing numerous examples where credit unions, and groups who are organizing new credit unions are doing just that. Think about the important work that our Minority Depository Institutions are doing every day to help marginalized and under-served communities within their field of membership. Or that just in the last year, the NCUA approved the new charters of multiple new credit unions with a focus on promoting those DEI ideals we just discussed.

The first is a new credit union in Lame Deer, Montana, that was chartered to provide financial services to Native American populations in their area. And the second is a new credit union in North Little Rock, Arkansas, which is led by a minority group. This credit union has a truly remarkable backstory. Its founder initially pursued a career as a barber and later went on to establish a barber college. Recognizing the financial struggles faced by some of his students, he took the initiative to establish a non-profit loan fund, aiming to provide financial assistance and help community members improve their credit scores. Once this fund earned recognition from the Department of Treasury as a community development financial institution, he advanced further by launching a credit union, which extended a broader range of financial services. This narrative underscores the inspiring journey of an individual who identified a community need and acted to create opportunities for others.

And as part of my duties as a Board Member, I spend a great deal of time meeting with credit union leaders, workers, and members so I can get a first-hand understanding of their needs. And I’m always impressed with the commitment to DEI principles that I see in the industry, which has been showing real leadership on this front.

We see this commitment and leadership in so many areas of credit union member and community services as well. I’ve pointed frequently to the example of Hope Credit Union in Jackson, Mississippi. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they played a pivotal role in disbursing around 4,000 loans under the Paycheck Protection Plan, offering a crucial lifeline to numerous small businesses and various entities during a period of unprecedented urgency and uncertainty. Notably, one of the beneficiaries of these loans was a historically black college that had encountered difficulties in securing the necessary funding from its primary financial institution. In this pivotal moment, Hope Credit Union stepped in and provided the critical loan support that was urgently required.

Or consider the initiative in which credit unions are partnering with the National Sheriff’s Association to provide financial literacy education to prison inmates in various counties throughout the country to help these offenders to better integrate after they’ve paid their debt to society.

Certainly, we could list countless other examples. But in all cases, these initiatives reflect how credit unions are responding positively to the changing world we live in today by embracing DEI principles. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not just a package of “concepts” or rules to follow — it’s a commitment that we must embody and put into practice every day. You may have noticed I’ve used that word — commitment — several times today.

The African American novelist Ralph Ellison once wrote, “It takes a deep commitment to change and an even deeper commitment to grow.” If we truly hope to surmount the barriers that divide our society, then we need to focus on the steps we can take to make that kind of “deep commitment” a reality. That begins with the conversations and exchanges of ideas that we’re having here at the DEI Summit and then putting those ideas into action in your own credit unions and workplaces after this event concludes.

Thank you so much for taking part in this year’s event. And thank you for all you for the work you do to make the credit union industry as strong as it can be.

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