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“Light. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Gigi Hyland’s Keynote Address, NCUA DEI Summit 2021

Gigi Hyland Speaking at DEI Summit

Foundation executive director Gigi Hyland gave the keynote address on the final day of the 2021 DEI Summit, hosted by the NCUA. Below are her remarks from the event.

I’d like to begin my comments with an acknowledgment, recognition and respect of the Indigenous Peoples who were the traditional stewards of the land, water and its bounty wherever each of us is located today.

For me, that is the Mount Vernon area of Alexandria, VA which the Doeg and Piscataway Indigenous Peoples called home.

Founded in 1749, Alexandria has a complex tapestry of history —

    • It was a thriving mercantile port for entry of foreign vessels and a major export center for flour and hemp. By the end of the 1700s, it was among the 10 busiest ports in America.
    • However, it was also a major slave trading center prior to the Civil War. In fact, the building at 1315 Duke Street (just a few blocks east of NCUA and now the Freedom House Museum) was once part of the headquarters for Franklin and Armfield, the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States.

As you walk the streets of Alexandria, you may be struck by the colorfulness of its homes, many painted in vibrant hues of pink, green, yellow, burgundy, and blue.

Recently, I was walking on the main North/South corridor (Washington Street) and noted an amazing change – words and beautiful color on one of the buildings. The words were from National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman: “For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” That quote feels particularly à propos as we close these three days of dynamic, vibrant and full conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion.

This meeting is 2 years after the last NCUA DEI meeting. We are in a completely different world then we were then. We’re beginning, at all levels, to talk about things we’ve never openly talked about before — racial injustice, microaggressions, inequalities that span gender, disability, identity and more. This moment – this summit – has brought all of these different strands together

Our dialogue has ranged far, wide and deep:

    • From the need for leadership commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion;
    • To understanding racism in banking from author Shawn Rochester;
    • To an exploration of the credit union systems role in DEI from our trade association leaders;
    • We learned about inclusion from outside the system and fintechs’ efforts as well as the ACCESS initiative within NCUA;
    • Day 2 breakout sessions covered so many topics:  increasing gender diversity in the C-suite, the role of Minority Deposit Institutions, and credit unions’ role in advancing access and inclusion; as well as how to get started on your DEI journey and the role of employee resource groups (ERGs).
    • We then heard John Hope Bryant’s perspective on financial dignity, literacy and inclusion.
    • Today – another day full of resources and ideas to foster action:
      • A panel with 3 credit unions who are making a difference by leveraging local and national businesses, community and professional organizations, and more, to break cycles of poverty, educate and empower communities, and provide services that ensure greater financial inclusion.
      • Breakout sessions that addressed DEI in the boardroom; Inclusive leadership and inclusive cultures; Serving the Hispanic market; Supplier diversity; and the power of faith-based credit unions.
      • We then heard from members of Filene’s i3 group on their CUDSA research as well as from Taylor Nelms and Dr. Roberson on findings from Filene’s survey of credit union DEI policies and practices and their conversation on the roadblocks to action and recommendations for ways to avoid these roadblocks.

And here we are. I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid to tip my head for fear all of this great wealth will spill out.

So, what now? Intention to Action. “Light, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”

If you boil the last 3 days down, our imperative action is to honor our shared humanity – our true North Star. And to do so meaningfully, intentionally, and authentically to fully live our cooperative values and principles.

We offer banking – a commodity like bread. But how we offer banking – through the power of a not-for-profit cooperative charter – allows us a laser focus on advancing our share humanity. Put another way, it frees us to improve financial well-being for all because our focus is people.

This moment calls for all of you to lead — as individuals, within an organization and systemically. But this leadership requires you to love – to be on this journey of shared humanity, to listen, show empathy, vulnerability and authenticity – and to act. To ask what are you doing for your employees, your members and your community? And to ask it again, and again, and again. DEI is not a checklist. It is a never-ending journey.

The resources, tools and network are all here to support you. Whether it be the CU DEI Collective, NCUA or the multiple national credit union system organizations you’ve heard from, we are in this together, for each other, our members and communities.

There is always light. Will you be brave enough to be it?

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