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Fewer Female CEOs Is Bad for Credit Unions.

Byline: Heather Anderson

This year, several credit unions have named new CEOs.

Nearly all of them have been men.

Women who were selected to occupy the corner office were chosen to run credit unions with fewer than $100 million in assets.

For an industry that prides itself on providing opportunities for women, that's disturbing.

Gene O'Rourke, managing director of O'Rourke & Associates in San Francisco, has placed executives in credit unions for more than 40 years. He confirmed with statistics that yes, very few women have been named credit union CEOs this year.

Women represent only 11% of the CEOs O'Rourke & Associates has placed so far this year. That figure has dropped significantly from last year's 36%.

O'Rourke said over the last six years, 23% of CEOs he's placed have been women. Last year's high percentage could mean this year is merely an anomaly.

However, it could also point to a negative trend in the industry; and, even if this year is unusual, credit unions still have some work to do when it comes to leveraging female talent.

For example, in recent years when O'Rourke's clients selected a female CEO, only 20% were internal candidates. Eighty percent were external.

While he didn't have statistics handy regarding how many men were promoted from within, the low percentage of successful internal female candidates suggests credit unions haven't been grooming women to replace retiring boomer CEOs.

O'Rourke stressed he hasn't seen evidence of gender bias among his credit union clients -- they hire based on talent, not gender, he said.

That may be true in his experience, but there's still a trend of large credit unions selecting male CEOs while small credit unions are predominantly run by women.

Germany, Brazil, South Korea, Argentina, Chile, Poland, Bangladesh and Liberia have female leaders. The Federal Reserve Board, state banks of India and Russia, and the NCUA are chaired by women. Women are also CEOs or chairs at NASDAQ, Fidelity Investments, Google, General Motors, Oracle, Yahoo, Wal-Mart, PepsiCo, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Xerox, Hewlett-Packard and many other large corporations.

Yet, they apparently can't be trusted to run a mid-size or large credit union.

A female credit union CFO friend of mine works at a large credit union and is currently seeking a CEO job. She has a steady work history with a couple of decades of experience in multiple credit union departments. She's also active in credit union trade groups, plus she networks, has great references and a good reputation.

Despite her good resume, she hasn't received much interest. Perhaps I'm biased, but I think she would make one heck of a good credit union CEO.

O'Rourke also said fewer women are applying for CEO positions. Only about one in five of his qualified candidates are women.

I think there are a couple reasons for this. For one, the average age of first time mothers in 2013 was 26. In 1970, it was 21. Additionally, births among U.S. women aged 35 and older have increased dramatically.

That means more women who would be qualified to apply for CEO positions may not be doing so because they have small children at home, rather than teenagers or adult children.

I definitely fall into this category as a 45-year-old with a four-year-old son. In the past few years, I've had to cancel business trips, pass up speaking engagements and live with missed deadlines because of motherhood obligations.

As credit union executive pay has increased, there is also less motivation for women to aspire to a CEO position. I can understand why women would avoid the pressure of reporting to a board of directors and always needing to be "on" as an organization's leader for only a little more money than they'd receive in a relatively less stressful C-suite job.

Still, as more women lead Fortune 500 companies and are elected to lead nations, motherhood and C-suite pay can't excuse the potential for gender bias in the credit union industry.

I'm still a big supporter of free-market feminism: Gender bias and the wage gap will eventually disappear as companies that hire and promote women succeed over those that only leverage male resources.

If credit unions fail to appreciate female leadership talent, that's bad news for the future of the industry.
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Publication:Credit Union Times
Date:Aug 13, 2015
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