Building a diverse workforce from the STEM up

Culture drives success, DEI is essential to culture

January 1, 2024

CUNA Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Samira Salem hosted a panel discussion Thursday on the present and future of DEI, part of United in Sustainability’s sixth annual summit for credit unions. The event featured a variety of events focused around building resiliency through sustainable actions.

Salem moderated a panel on whether DEI is a “fad” or something more permanent. Though the panelists had different backgrounds and ways DEI is embedded within their work, they all agreed DEI is here to stay.

Miguel Polanco, director of NCUA’s Office of Women and Minority and Inclusion, said it needs to be a cultural foundation of organizations.

“It’s been said, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ Everyone has a strategic plan, but the culture will drive your organization to the outcomes you want and make it sustainable,” he said. “DEI part of the culture plan. You don’t have DEI, you might as well say you’re not going to have any culture.”

He also encouraged credit unions to gather data and look at what it’s telling them.

Ashley Riker, vice president of DEI at Hudson Valley Credit Union, said no matter what you call it, DEI is about positive impact.

“Diversity is about valuing people, equity is intentional fairness, and inclusion is driving belonging,” she said. “These are things that impact people’s lives, and that’s what we’re here for.

Ayris Scales, SVP of social responsibility and global initiatives for the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, said DEI, “starts with systems, representation, and forcing transparency,” to be a foundational part of culture.