Alyssa Guillory, CCM, VP/marketing for Unity One Credit Union, wants women to give themselves a break and for the CU industry to create supportive environments for women throughout their careers and life stages.
Promoted into her current position at the tender age of 31—making her the youngest member of the senior management team—Alyssa Guillory, CCM, VP/marketing for $303 million Unity One Credit Union, Fort Worth, Texas, knows the difference support can make to women throughout their careers. At the time of her promotion in 2018, Guillory had two children under two and a husband who frequently worked out of town. Thanks to a supportive organization, she’s making it work.
“In the 2.5 years since I’ve been promoted, I’ve successfully completed a brand refresh, developed a new website, converted to a new online and mobile banking platform, and survived a pandemic,” she says. “I’ve been thankful in this stage of life to work at a credit union that truly believes in the work-life balance mantra. I’ve said it countless times, but I honestly never could have been a mother anywhere else. I’m given options, like working from home with a sick baby, or no questions asked when I need to leave a little early—which has been a lifesaver.”
Unity One CU has seven branches throughout Forth Worth, Kansas City, Kansas, and St. Paul, Minnesota. The credit union’s 68 full-time and eight part-time employees serve more than 30,000 BNSF Railroad employees and their families and members of the local communities, says Guillory.
Guillory, who holds a BA in communications from Louisiana State University, has been in the industry since 2007, joining Unity One CU in 2014 as director of community and public relations. In her current role as VP/marketing, she’s responsible for the planning, development and implementation of all CU marketing activities—including digital, content, select employee group/community activities—and acts as the primary media communications contact, among other duties. Career highlights include being the inaugural recipient of the Cornerstone League’s Young Professional of the Year in 2016 and serving as a Mastermind in the CUES Emerge program for 2021, in addition to receiving multiple marketing awards. She has also earned Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor and Certified Credit Union Manager designations.
When Advancing Women asked Guillory to select a topic of importance to her and other women in the industry, she chose how to better support women throughout their careers. In the following Q&A, she reveals why.
The need to support women throughout their careers is getting more recognition, but what do you think is still lacking in this effort, particularly when it comes to younger women?
I constantly hear from executives who had their “village” to help raise their older children, yet I rarely hear from executives who are young mothers in the thick of it all, with no family or village nearby. All that is portrayed online, on social media or in the news is that if you manage your time efficiently (and never sleep!), you can do and be it all, like somehow your resources are unlimited. It’s emotionally draining.
I want to show other young women that it’s possible to “have it all” but that you have to be willing to give yourself the patience that’s needed to succeed and maybe lower your expectations a little. In my opinion, understanding the need to give individuals a little gray area for things, such as sick children or mental health breaks, is what’s missing. Having the ability to leave 10 minutes before five so you can beat traffic and make it to daycare pickup on time is priceless.
What are credit unions getting right so far in the effort to support women?
I think they’re getting it right when it comes to offering a plethora of insurance options, such as health, vision, dental, life, etc. However, I think as an industry we have a long way to go when it comes to really supporting women throughout their various life stages. For example, incorporating paid parental leave—one that’s truly paid and doesn’t require you to use your earned vacation and sick time—would be a huge blessing. Anyone who has had or has adopted a child knows that maternity/paternity leave is not “vacation.” Allowing the flexibility to work from home and extend your maternity leave would be of value.
What else should be done?
Career education from a young age is important, along with leadership training and career-pathing services. We also need training on how to reframe our negative self-talk into something more positive, for example disassociating the negativity with words like “assertive” or “bossy” and reframing them as “powerful,” “dynamic” or “confident.”
What has been your biggest leadership or career challenge to date?
When I first started in my role as VP/marketing, I was trying to mend inter-department relations while navigating the waters of being a first-time manager, the youngest on our senior management team, and proving that I deserved my promotion. Every single day I found myself asking, “Am I doing this right?” whether I was talking about my work or my home. And looking back, some days I honestly don’t know how I got through it.
So, how did you get through it?
I learned to stop putting pressure on myself to be perfect. Instead, I take the time to lay out a well-thought plan and then just take things day by day. Giving myself daily measurable tasks—even if it’s just “wake up and keep the kids alive”—has helped tremendously.
What mentors have helped you grow as a leader?
Ironically, many of my mentors have been males. I’ve spent a lot of time having conversations with them about personality traits, what they value in a leader and career-pathing. They’ve taught me a lot about the analytical and logistics of running a credit union and how the different areas work hand-in-hand.
I’ve also had some incredibly powerful female mentors who have taught me the importance of compassion and empathy. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that you never know what someone is going through; you’re only seeing one facet of them at work. Taking time to slow down and dig deeper to understand the “why” behind peoples’ motives benefits everyone.
What advice do you have for aspiring female leaders?
Don’t let your title or gender define you. You are capable of more than you can imagine. Never be afraid to ask a question. There is a lesson in everything, even if it’s hard to see at first. And take time for yourself. Burnout is real and mental-health days benefit everyone.
Pamela Mills-Senn is a writer based in Long Beach, California.