Renée Sattiewhite is on a mission to make diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) more than just empty buzzwords or a fleeting fad. She is wholeheartedly committed to ensuring the principles behind DEI are rooted into every facet of society – starting with the financial services industry.
President and CEO of the African-American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC), Renée works every day to move the Colored Majority away from generational poverty and toward generational wealth.
With African American households owning only 10-15% of the net wealth of white households, eliminating the racial wealth gap is a critical step in defeating the deep-seated racism millions of people experience throughout the country.
“How’s that for a concept – generational wealth as opposed to generational poverty?” Renée says. “It is my own personal belief that economic justice and social justice are connected. Credit unions can lead the way in eradicating racism through financial inclusion and economic empowerment.”
Serving at the intersection of race and financial inclusion
An award-winning organization shaping diversity, equity, and inclusion in the movement, AACUC is considered a leader in the credit union industry.
Renée’s boundless leadership of and commitment to DEI is spotlighted in her role. She oversees AACUC’s adoption of the 8th Cooperative Principle of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This principle focuses on the belief that cooperatives are “stronger when a proactive effort is put forth to engage everyone in governance, management, and representation.”
“We are truly standing at the intersection of economic empowerment and racial equity – and we have been given a megaphone to impact change,” Renée says. “It is up to the credit union industry to set the example of what it means to be focused on DEI principles.”
Under Renée’s direction, AACUC unites allies and advocates to ensure the presence of DEI in all financial services. The group promotes financial inclusion and professional development through its support of credit unions, and creates bridges between community-based organizations and consumer-focused initiatives designed to close the extensive racial wealth gap.
“We make it a priority to lead by example in the communities we serve,” Renée says. “When you step into one of our credit unions, sit in our boardroom, or talk with our constituents, you experience firsthand that our people make the difference and diversity is our strength.”
AACUC sponsors outreach tools that assist credit unions in better communicating with low-income individuals of color, and leveraging relationships with organizations such as the African-American forum at the American College of Financial Services.
Understanding that the path toward financial wellness starts at a young age, Renée has inspired initiatives that foster community involvement and support the advancement of low-income communities of color through youth development and financial literacy.
“We need to consistently educate the youngest in our communities on how money works, why saving is important, and why financial literacy is critical to financial wellness,” Renée explains. “Only then can generational poverty end and generational wealth begin.”
A commitment to change
After the social unrest that resulted from the 2020 murder of George Floyd – and in response to the subsequent demands for social and economic justice – Renée led AACUC in creating the Commitment to Change: Credit Unions Unite Against Racism Initiative.
Through this initiative, AACUC focuses on unification, education, conversations, and investments that will move the credit union movement into a future where diversity, equity, and inclusion can thrive. The initiative also emphasizes the importance of DEI trainings and financial inclusion offerings for its members and corporate partners. The Commitment to Change program has gained great momentum within the credit union industry, and is sure to be part of Renée’s lasting legacy on AACUC and the movement itself.
“This initiative joins together organizations within the credit union industry in an effort to eliminate racism. These partnerships are creating new financial investments that will have a long-term impact on our employees, our members, and the communities we serve,” Renée says.
Additionally, Renée led the five-day online Commitment to Change Virtual Conference in August 2020 and attracted over 1,000 attendees from around the globe.
This was a call to action from the Safe Space Conversations that were started after the murder of George Floyd. This series creates a safe space for AACUC members to have “real talk” on the emotional and psychological impact of current events and how to bring about sustainable change. In the ongoing series of virtual conversations, topics have included the impact of police brutality, the fears of being profiled, what it’s like to experience microaggressions, and the reality of trauma that can happen to an individual and/or groups as a result of oppression.
Other aspects of the initiative include the DEI Leadership Academy for Financial Professionals, “The Financial Change Experience” credit card and prepaid card. With the former – an interactive program offered four times per year – AACUC aims to further illuminate DEI among credit unions and ways to better understand the nuances of racism.
The goal of the credit card and prepaid card is to provide financial education and increase the financial worthiness and wellness of credit-challenged individuals.
“At AACUC, we believe that offerings like the discussion series, DEI Academy, and Commitment to Change Credit Card are all part of a financial overhaul for the credit union industry as we dig deeper into the causes of, experiences with, and solutions to economic racism,” Renée explains. “We are thrilled to be the launching pad of discussions and events that lead our country and industry toward truly embracing financial inclusion for all individuals with varying credit situations.”
Remarkable achievements in the movement
Renée joined AACUC after working with the organization’s internship committee to create the Reaching Toward the Future Internship Program in 2001. The program was designed to place African American students into mainstream credit unions throughout the United States. While most internship opportunities look for students with higher GPAs, AACUC’s internship program required a C+ average.
“We wanted to give a special gift to students who may not have the same opportunities – we wanted to give them a chance to succeed,” she explains. “The program was a hit. It was an extremely popular and important program for the organization for five years and I was honored to play a part in its success.”
In recognition of the Commitment to Change initiative, the National Credit Union Foundation Board of Directors awarded AACUC the rare and prestigious Anchor Award for its global efforts to unite financial industries in eradicating racism. Presented during the 2022 CUNA Government Affairs Conference, the Anchor Award is given to individuals and organizations that have shown incredible leadership and anchored the credit union industry through moments of great adversity.
Renée was honored to accept the award on behalf of AACUC, noting that it is the equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize of the credit union industry.
“To have our hard work spotlighted with such a renowned award in the industry really speaks volumes about the commitment of our team to the People Helping People credit union motto,” she says.
Another notable achievement of Renée’s tenure is AACUC’s Cross-Cultural Exchange Program (CCEP). The program, which began last year, has been one of the most effective tools AACUC has to move DEI forward within the movement, according to Renée. The series works to engrain DEI within organizations by allowing individuals with different backgrounds to see the unique perspectives of others.
As part of the exchange program, participants meet in person and remotely approximately every two weeks for a period of six months. They work together to build a rapport with each other with the goal to find consensus on DEI topics and emerging events.
“Seeing and understanding new perspectives is critical to DEI,” says Renée. “It blends well with the credit union industry’s ‘People Helping People’ motto—which is the basis for why credit unions were created.”
“When we work together and find areas of commonality and understand different viewpoints, all the other stuff melts away.”
Inspiring service in others
Renée’s list of accomplishments might be long, but it’s not complete. She continuously meets with her team, listens to her constituents, and consults with her board members on new and effective ways to meet the constantly-changing conditions of the economy and the credit union industry.
So many of AACUC’s successful strategies and promising programs are inspired – and will continue to be inspired – by Renée’s mantra of “The Possibility of People Serving People Passionately.”
“In this industry, I believe we are truly called to combine our skills with our passions,” she says. “Our staff leans into our strengths and designs programs that enable us to passionately serve our members, promote financial wellness and inclusion, and improve lives.”
“When we do what we love and love what we do – when we extend our hands to raise each other up – we can have a huge impact on the community we live and work in. That’s the true meaning of People Helping People.” IE
Original article available here.