Advocating for Diversity

Local businesses address the culture of the evolving workforce
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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fuels CUNA Mutual Group’s Future Success.
“We are inclusive.” This CUNA Mutual Group corporate value represents a commitment to a culture that celebrates and values unique talents and perspectives and supports their mission of ensuring a brighter financial future is accessible to everyone.

“Our efforts to help more people in more ways are more effective when diversity, equity, and inclusion considerations are part of everything we do from talent acquisition and retention to customer care, solution design, community relations, and advocacy,” says Linda Nedelcoff, Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy and Human Resources Officer.
“We also know the needs of consumers — and consumer demographics — are changing, and if we are to address their current and future needs, we must better understand and represent those we aim to serve.”

Two employees helping bring this to life are Opal Tomashevska, Director, Multicultural Center of Expertise, and Joe Hankey, Senior Manager, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Opal and Joe are committed to connecting DEI to business outcomes and are active leaders in Engagement Resource Groups (ERGs) — the African American ERG and the Amig@s ERG, respectively.

Today, there are 13 active ERGs, born from a grassroots effort that started a decade ago to provide a place for CUNA Mutual Group employees of similar backgrounds to support each other and push for awareness and action in the DEI space. ERGs are integral partners and innovators, helping to drive business results, attract and retain diverse talent, support an inclusive culture, and provide leadership development opportunities.

“So many of the spaces we are now in were not designed with all of us in mind,” Tomashevska says. “DEI is the path to reimagining those spaces, and reimagining what it looks like and feels like to thrive within them. As a woman of color – on a deep level – diversity, equity, and inclusion means I am seen, and I am valued. My background, my experiences, and my ideas matter.”

With 95% of CUNA Mutual Group working remotely due to COVID-19, employees are coming together and sharing resources through ERGs, creating a connected community from home.

Moving forward, ERG leaders and participants plan to proactively build up employee supports, from intercultural competence education to driving inclusive workspace design principles through the company’s Workplace Modernization initiative. Perhaps more importantly, the company is working to address the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on communities of color and the racial and gender inequalities that this pandemic has exposed and amplified.

“2020 has reminded us of the costly impact of inequity,” Hankey says. “Corporate America must be at the table driving real, transformational change within their organizations and in the communities where their employees live and work.”

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Fostering Belonging with Employee Resource Groups
Being a minority in the workplace comes with many challenges. Coworkers may make faulty assumptions about your race, gender or culture. You might need accommodations for a disability your boss doesn’t truly understand. You could find it hard to advance professionally or make your voice heard. These barriers can take a toll on your physical, mental and financial health.

Thankfully, more and more companies are realizing the importance of creating safe spaces for employees whose careers are likely to have extra hurdles. Employee resource groups, or ERGs, are one tool for building these spaces.

Some of the first ERGs began in the 1960s, after race riots broke out near the Xerox headquarters in Rochester, New York. Black employees began meeting to discuss racial tension and workplace discrimination. They were supported by CEO Joseph Wilson, who further developed the ERG concept.

In the Madison area, UW Credit Union uses ERGs to foster belonging and conversations about equity. Many employees find that it’s easier to start these conversations among people who share important elements of their identity. They can participate in groups dedicated to Black excellence, women in leadership, sustainability, young professionals and the LGBT community, and more groups are in the works. Plus, ERGs provide opportunities to volunteer and connect with mentors.

“Our ERGs rally employees around a common purpose. This helps their work feel meaningful, and it helps them feel heard and supported,” says Sheila Milton, UW Credit Union’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

ERGs also help UW Credit Union address problems and identify future leaders, Milton notes.“When employees feel safe and supported, they are more likely to speak openly about their concerns. This helps our organization address these concerns constructively, and it keeps employees from bottling up their emotions. Then they can better focus on their jobs, their families and the other things they value most,” she says.
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