NCUA Board Member Todd M. Harper Closing Remarks - “My Diversity Journey and Commitment”, NCUA’s Inaugural Credit Union Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit

November 2019
NCUA Board Member Todd M. Harper Closing Remarks - “My Diversity Journey and Commitment”, NCUA’s Inaugural Credit Union Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit

As Prepared for Delivery on November 6, 2019

Introduction

Thank you, Miguel, for that very warm welcome, and thank you all for dedicating your day to exploring the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Today, you’ve considered best practices and brainstormed. You’ve studied how to recruit and retain talent. And you’ve collaborated on the best methods for collecting data. In short, you’ve learned why diversity is critical to growth and innovation in the credit union system.

You’ve also learned more about why diversity is a good investment. Diversity allows you to attract employees and volunteers from a broader talent pool. Diversity gives you broader perspectives that lead to better decisions. And that will allow you and your credit union to create more innovative products and services to better meet the needs of your members as our country becomes more and more diverse.

So now, at the very end of a very long day focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, you’re hearing from the white guy who grew up in Indiana. It makes all the sense in the world, right? I thought that might make a few of you chuckle, but please bear with me as I talk about my personal journey and my commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

My Diversity Journey

Like some of you, I grew up in the early years of the Public Broadcasting System. My daily media diet included Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and The Electric Company. I ate up the lessons provided.

Each of those shows shaped and taught me the importance of tolerance and understanding. But, the world around me was still a very white place. That, however, changed when I got to high school and made friends with kids who had last names like Martinez, Orozco and Medina.

Through student government in college, I later forged friendships with Asian-American and African-American classmates. In doing so, we acknowledged each other’s differences, but we often found similarities, especially when there are common goals like making your university a better place.

After graduation, my worldview further changed when working at the U.S. Department of Labor. There, I met Lorraine and Pat. They weren’t who you’d typically expect as mentors for a college-educated, white kid. They were African American, high school graduates who never went to college. Nevertheless, they climbed to the top of the career ladder. They started their careers as GS-2 secretaries and retired as GS-15 specialists.

They explained to me when to use my “woulds, coulds and shoulds” in writing. They taught me how to draft briefing papers and decision memos. And they educated me about the importance of measuring success based on performance.

And through those mentorships grew friendships and understanding. In fact, Pat used to have a poster in her cubicle that reads: “When Differences End Understanding Begins.”

After Pat died, I got that poster. I have it here today. I loved sitting in Pat’s office because the poster reinforced the lessons of my childhood when I watched PBS. I often imagined that I was that little white boy with very blonde hair and Pat was the little girl standing next to me.

It’s my experiences with Pat and Lorraine that fired my desire to pay it forward to the next generation, just as they did for me. Over many years, I’ve done that as a donor, volunteer and non-profit board member.

Later, during my time on Capitol Hill, I also learned more about the importance of using public policy to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion from Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Congressman Barney Frank, among many others. Their work led to the creation of the NCUA’s Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, which has organized today’s summit. By shining a light on diversity and inclusion, we can create better workplaces, a more responsive government and a credit union system that works for everyone. We can, as our founders envisioned, create a “more perfect union.”

Paying for the Party

My diversity journey could have ended here, and I would have left the world a better place. But, instead, several years ago, I read a book that dramatically changed how I thought.

Written by a sociologist, Paying for the Party follows the lives of 55 women from their first days as freshmen in college through the next five years of their lives. One conclusion of the book is that women who come from an upper-class background or an upper-middle-class family will end up just fine because of the financial support and professional guidance they receive from parents and friends.

But those who come from middle-class and working-class families aren’t as lucky. They may lack the networks and knowledge needed to avoid or fix a mistake. And college can be especially difficult to navigate for first-generation students.

The book enlightened me. It’s not only important to get students into college, but we also need to support them to make sure they graduate and climb the economic ladder. That’s why I strongly support the NCUA’s summer internship program, first as a member of the agency’s executive team and now as a Board Member. And at my alma mater, it’s why I successfully advocated to fund need-based internships to send aspiring social workers to war-torn zones and worked to fund a women-rising ambassador program to put women on the right footing at the start of their careers.

Paying It Forward

Shortly after reading the book, I coincidentally met Angela and Gamaliel, two first-generation college students. I started mentoring them. Angela immigrated to my home county in Northwest Indiana from China at the age of five. At first, students bullied her for her inability to speak English, but soon she was in honors classes and later earned a full-ride scholarship to college.

And Gamaliel, a Mexican American, grew up in Northeastern Indiana. When I first met him as a freshman, Gamaliel asked me how he could make the most of his college experience. I made several suggestions. Over four years, I watched him act on each of them, including joining two prestigious leadership clubs.

I’m very proud to say that Angela and Gamaliel graduated last spring. Before graduating, however, they both did something remarkable. Of the more than 7,000 students in their class, the university named Angela and Gamaliel as two of approximately 25 outstanding seniors. When they asked me to join them at the awards ceremony, I felt deeply honored. Mentoring Angela and Gamaliel not only changed them, but it also changed me.

Coming Out

A few months ago, as Angela and Gamaliel began their careers, we spoke by phone. They asked me questions about employee benefits, personal budgeting, and navigating the workplace. I asked them questions about their first impressions.

In response, Gamaliel talked about how he really appreciated that there were people in the orientation room who looked like him. I pointed out that, unlike me, he was very lucky. He seemed puzzled to hear that from a white guy.

You see, 30 years ago when I began my career, I at first didn’t see anyone who felt like me in the workplace. I hid who I was. After all, people lost their jobs simply for being gay.

Fortunately, over time, I became much more comfortable in my own skin. In doing so, I came out on my own terms and made friends who accepted me for who I am. I even met and fell in love with my partner of 27 years.

Gamaliel’s comment and my own experiences in coming out explain why Employee Resource Groups are so important. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that serve as a resource for members and organizations by fostering a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational purposes. ERGs facilitate the creation and maintenance of a work culture and environment that recognizes, appreciates and effectively encourages the use of the talents, skills and perspectives of all employees in the achievement of an organization’s mission.

ERGs are making the NCUA a stronger agency and a better place to work. And that’s good for everyone in the credit union system.

Take Five Steps and Commit to Diversity

And so, if a white guy from Indiana can become a diversity champion, it’s time for you to make the investment in diversity, equity and inclusion. You can start by doing five things.

The first is to complete the NCUA’s voluntary diversity self-assessment. If you need a reminder, it’s available at cudiversity.ncua.gov.

When I recently met with the executive team at a large credit union, I shared this tool. Afterwards, one participant told me that merely looking through the items on the diversity survey “shifted” his thinking and added that the survey was a “great chance to do a little good in the world.” So, take the assessment and do a little good.

Second, advocate for the NCUA’s diversity self-assessment. We need you to encourage others in your network to complete the survey. Explain to them how an investment in diversity and inclusion can result in better performance and growth.

Third, practice inclusion every day. Say hello to everyone, even on the elevator. Proactively ask everyone on your team about their priorities and honor those commitments. Ask them questions and carefully listen. You’ll be surprised at what you learn and how you can become a better leader.

Fourth, if your credit union is large enough, create employee resource groups. If you instead come from a small credit union, become a mentor for a woman, a person of color, or someone in need of a mentor. In doing so, you’ll pay it forward.

Finally, if your credit union has the resources, establish a supplier diversity program that conducts proactive outreach to minority- and women-owned businesses and encourages them to bid on procurement opportunities.

With respect to supplier diversity, the NCUA is the most successful financial institutions regulator. In all, 45 percent of our contracting dollars in 2018 went to minority- and women-owned businesses. We need to continue this momentum, and you can help us do that throughout the credit union system.

In sum, diversity, equity and inclusion are everyone’s responsibility. If you don’t deliberately include, you will unintentionally exclude. By taking these five steps of completing the voluntary diversity self-assessment, encouraging others to do the same, acting inclusively every day, creating employee resource groups or mentoring, and establishing a supplier diversity program, you and your credit union can become diversity champions.

Now, let’s make it happen throughout the credit union system!

Last modified on
11/06/19