The only thing worse than an organization’s board of directors who ignore diversity are the attempts to provide a rationale why the board is diverse. Such excuses show a failure of leadership and the inability to understand or care about the communities being served.
There are two divergent examples in the workplace today. There’s Alexis Ohanian the co-founder of Reddit who recently stepped down in order to diversify the Reddit board. And there is SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, the largest financial institution in Orange County with over one million members. The SchoolsFirst leadership has offered up a sundry of excuses why its board is diverse while watching it expand to 13 non-persons of color with two new additions just this year.
Under CEO, Bill Cheney the SchoolsFirst board has added without an election, five new members in six years – all non-persons of color. At the same time SchoolsFirst advertises its “…Promise to continually advance and foster diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the Organization…”
SchoolsFirst is a great financial institution offering exemplary customer service, outstanding products and solid financials with over $20 billion in assets. Employees appear happy, the workforce is diverse and Mr. Cheney is generally well-liked by the over 2000 employees. This is what the public sees, but what they don’t see is the failure of Mr. Cheney to work with his board to convince them the year is 2020, not 1957 Orange County.
SchoolsFirst has over one million members. Mr. Cheney and the board should be able to find 13 members who reflect the communities served and who possess similar skills as the current board members. Nearly fifty percent of the population of communities served by SchoolsFirst are persons of color.
When I wrote of the board’s diversity hypocrisy in July, “SchoolsFirst…Diversity Last” a series of disappointing excuses followed.
In an article in the American Banker, SchoolsFirst senior vice-president, Mark Rapp claimed the current 13 board members were diverse in “imperceptible” ways, but he wouldn’t elaborate.
When the NAACP made their concerns known, Mr. Cheney himself touted the fact that the board members were diverse in their educational backgrounds and as if he was still stuck in the 20th century explained there were women on the board.
Most disappointing, however was Mr. Cheney’s remark to the OC Register when he finally acknowledged that there is a lack of diversity on the SchoolsFirst board.
“It’s the right time, especially given what’s happening in the world”.
To use one event as a reason to finally admit the SchoolsFirst board needs to be diversified illustrates a lack of leadership.
It was the “right time” for Mr. Cheney because he was called out.
He may claim he only reports to the board, but good leaders know how to work with a board to achieve positive results in all areas including those that may not be as evident as the bottom line.
For Mr. Cheney and his board, putting the following words from Mr. Ohanian into action would be a good start to prove it is indeed the right time for SchoolsFirst.
“I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now”.
Dr. Barry Resnick, a professor of counseling, is in his 41st year as a faculty member in the Rancho Santiago CCD. He has resided with his family in the city of Orange for 33 years.
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