Article

Diversity Insight: Prepare for Your DEI Journey

businessman walks with briefcase
Sherri Thomas, SPHR Photo
Chief Administrative Officer
Truliant

4 minutes

Then make it strategic as you look to include everyone.

Truliant has been intentionally developing its diversity, inclusion and equity practices for several years. Here’s some initial advice for executives who are thinking about starting a diversity program:

  • Be courageous.
  • Be curious.
  • Be humble.
  • Be a student.

It’s important to have a thirst for understanding and appreciating the life knowledge each employee brings to the workplace. If you embrace this approach, you’ll find it easier to have authentic conversations with your employees. It will enable you to better understand their thoughts, ideas and actions.

In the early stages of a DEI program, education is paramount. We want to provide a common understanding of our goals—from the impact on member-owners, to professional development and advancement opportunities.

Our plans were solidified when in 2021 a new position for senior vice president of DEI was created to drive the program.    Having a dedicated executive lead the process is important. It shows a serious commitment of time and resources, and is necessary to keep employees and leadership engaged. We also believe in the importance of having someone who can listen to the needs of our employees and make sure they are being understood.

Implementing a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy requires some key tactics:

  • Start with a blank slate.
  • Don’t assume.
  • Ask questions.
  • Listen.

We have focused on a few key areas. We are developing baselines through employee surveys. We have a diversity council made up of employee volunteers. We offer education and safe spaces for employees to learn and be vulnerable, underscoring that this is a journey, and that we all start from different places of understanding. These actions have helped show how DEI will influence our workplace.

A Strategic Approach to Diversity

One of our most important wins was developing a strategic approach to DEI. Our program is built around four focus areas: employees, the communities we serve, supplier diversity, and attracting and addressing the needs of our members.

Employees: We have regular diversity training to build increased awareness of what inclusiveness looks like at Truliant. We are taking a closer look at practices and policies so we can help our employees enhance their careers. Often, diverse talent leaves an organization because there is a lack of support and limited advancement opportunities.

Communities: The Truliant Foundation is intentional about our charitable contributions. The foundation wants to make sure that our money and time is creating positive change, especially in our underserved communities. Last year, 46% of Truliant’s charitable contributions supported organizations operating or serving in underserved markets. Further, 55% supported minority-led organizations.

Supplier diversity: We are building a stronger supplier network that includes small and minority-owned businesses. We want to spend our money with a diverse group of suppliers.

Members: We are committed to meeting our member-owners where they are in their everyday lives and adjusting our products and services to match their needs.

Each of these focus areas has specific goals and strategies. These form the directional points on Truliant’s DEI compass and help us make steady progress on our journey.

Everyone Under the Sun

Another early win was visualizing our program for employees. We created the “Everyone Under the Sun” diversity logo to celebrate and empower our individual differences. We introduced it in public areas and internal communications. We want to show we are embracing DEI as part of Truliant’s culture to help all employees feel more welcome.

There are plenty of studies that highlight how diverse companies have higher retention rates and greater engagement. We are focusing on it because it’s the right thing to do. Our diversity makes Truliant more innovative, creative and strategic. A diverse workforce brings together people who are better able to solve problems because of their different experiences, skills, perspectives and insights.

It’s exciting for me as a woman of color to have an influence in creating Truliant’s culture and to help foster change inside and outside the building. Every organization is on a different journey. Each has specific challenges, but DEI efforts do produce results. Be intentional in your actions. Form strategies that create ownership and accountability throughout your company.

A DEI strategy takes years of commitment and focus. We have found that the process is critical to creating meaningful financial solutions to improve the lives of our 289,000+ member-owners. By exposing the Truliant culture to a broader base of ideas, we’ve found that diverse perspectives improve strategic decisions.

CUES member Sherri Thomas is chief administrative officer for $3.9 billion Truliant Federal Credit Union, Winston Salem, North Carolina. She joined Truliant in 2010 and has more than 25 years of experience managing operations and human resources at large and mid-size institutions. Her role at the credit union encompasses oversight of diversity, equity and inclusion. The credit union announced this month that it has named Precious McCloud as its new SVP/DEI.

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