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Five Challenges: Enhancing Women’s Leadership in Credit Unions

Questions remain about the differential representation of men and women in leadership roles in credit unions. Unlike their male counterparts, female credit union CEOs face distinct gender challenges that influence their overall leadership style and ability.

  • Melissa C. Thomas-Hunt Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Darden School of Business at University of Virginia
  • Mahak Nagpal BRAD Lab Manager at the Darden School of Business at University of Virginia

Executive Summary

Gender matters. Women are much more likely to start their credit union careers as tellers. Male employees are more likely to have advanced degrees. Despite similar stated levels of ambition, women arrive much less often at the credit union’s executive suite. And those who do are less likely to have children than their male counterparts.

For more than a year, Melissa Thomas- Hunt and Mahak Nagpal of the University of Virginia have worked with the Filene Research Institute and the World Council of Credit Unions to study the state of women’s leadership within credit unions. Drawing upon organizational and social psychological literature about women’s advancement in the workplace in general, they examined dozens of specific factors that support or thwart women’s leadership within credit unions.

An early literature review and survey uncovered intriguing possibilities: 

  • Acknowledging that female CEOs get markedly scarcer at larger credit unions, they suggest that the different educational backgrounds of women and men tend to sort them into functional roles and departments. 
  • Perhaps women who choose credit union careers simply have different leadership potential, or perhaps certain credit union environments undervalue or even discourage the emergence of female leaders. 
  • Even when women do lead, they seem to differ from men in leadership style, which can change their effectiveness.