Credit Unions Need a #MeToo Moment

We’ve all heard stories about conference behavior getting out-of-hand. It’s glorified in ostensibly benign comedies dating back decades, and it seems that every office has its own lore about so-and-so doing such-and-such while under the influence or, perhaps, out from under the influence of so-and-so’s spouse. From what I’ve observed, at least, that type of behavior has either become less typical or has become less overt (hopefully from becoming less acceptable) even in just the last ten years or so. That’s good, right? But there is plenty of work to be done on the subtle stuff, and I know fellow women out there know what I’m talking about.

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Here are a few examples of the bad behavior I’m referring to, and this is from just four days at the 2019 CUNA GAC. More than once, I had a perfect stranger practically drape himself over me and plant an introductory wet kiss on my cheek rather than shaking my hand like he did with the rest of the folks (men) in my group. Please stop doing that. I also noticed that I’m apparently perceived as incapable of entering a room on my own without having the gentle guidance of a man’s hand on my lower back (far too low, in more than one instance). Please stop doing that. A female senior credit union employee from my region was greeted by another senior credit union employee (a male) from a different credit union in our region by him walking up behind her and licking her bare shoulder. Yes, licking her. And then feigning great offense when she wanted nothing to do with him and again when I later firmly told him to keep his distance. A board member I met on the plane to D.C. never once called me by my name in four days. He’d shout, “Hello, Pretty Face!” across the hotel lobby at me instead. At a lunch with a male credit union CEO from another part of the country, I was repeatedly cut off, spoken over, or blatantly dismissed. While discussing the FinCEN guidance for cannabis banking (the very topic I was qualified enough to speak about in Congressional testimony last month), this man interrupted me and said, “No. You’re wrong. There are no rules. Read about it.” Then, turning to my male colleagues, he said he’d be in touch. When he turned back to me, he said, “I’ll introduce you to my compliance girl.” (Note that this conversation is only one example out of dozens I could have used.) At the closing reception, an older man currently sitting on a credit union board made a comment to me that I can’t even comfortably write in this article. Rather than call out the behavior, the male CEO working for him simply mouthed “I’m so sorry” to me. Finally, when I’d had enough of the reception, I politely said to my table that it was time for me to go upstairs. Yet another credit union board member drunkenly shouted as I stood up, “Which room again?”  

Is this our best, credit unions? I know there are some reading this and rolling their eyes, thinking I’m just another woman whining (there’s probably another term in your heads) about some innocent, playful banter. This isn’t innocent, and it isn’t playful. It’s chauvinistic and wrong, and we need to start talking about it. I know that’s easier said than done, particularly when board members are in question, but ending sexism in our industry takes all of us. Not just women who are tired after four days with these men at a conference. I also know that “these men” are the exception and not the rule. I work with good guys: men who stood up for me last week. I’m married to a good guy. I have three sons at home who are good guys. I believe that we, as a society, are starting to expect more good guys and expect more from men who aren’t there yet. Our industry should be no exception.

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