CUSO Women Sets the Blueprint for Employee Empowerment

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In 2022, CU*Answers launched the long-planned and supported group CUSO Women with the vision to create a culture that empowers women to reach their full potential and grow as leaders. CUSO Women aims to encourage, develop, and inspire women to find and use their authentic voices through networking, collaboration, mentorship, and education.

Since its creation, CUSO Women has come together to foster professional development of women and to grow the pipeline of future leaders. The group seeks to create an environment of equal opportunity for women by creating awareness and education around the challenges that women face while helping women cultivate their skills, knowledge, and abilities to provide them with future opportunities.

We believe the women of our organization need to embrace opportunities and drive for their future. The point of this group is to provide a network where women can openly ask questions, learn from their colleagues, and gain exposure to leaders in the industry to help women grow in their leadership potential. Though aimed toward women, the group is open to all employees interested in engaging.

Establishing committees

CUSO Women is made up of three different committees: Meeting and Events, Mentorship, and Communication and Awareness. Members are encouraged to join one of the committees.

The Meeting and Events committee, led by Stephanie Underwood (VP of Administration) is responsible for the planning and coordinating of special events, speaker lunches, volunteer opportunities, and more. The Mentorship committee, led by Casey Folkertsma (Procurement and Fulfillment Team Lead) is working on creating a formal mentorship program within our CUSO. The final committee, Communication and Awareness, led by Nicole Cooper (SettleMINT EFT Team Lead) and Julie Gessner (VP of Inside Sales and Marketplace Development), investigates educational opportunities and maintains the communication strategy for CUSO Women.

“I joined CUSO Women as I thought it would be a great use of my experience at my CUSO from a networking standpoint,” said Stephanie Underwood, Chair of the Meeting and Events committee. “We had never had an employee engagement group, and having the first one centered on women in business in our organization was an exciting idea. Having an opportunity to work with other women in the organization that I may not otherwise ever get to interact with has been a highlight of the group, as has coordinating events that have different focuses and subjects. I look forward to what the committee and CUSO Women will bring in year two.”

Hosting events and finding mentors

CUSO Women, with the help of the Meeting and Events committee, was able to coordinate a book club where participants read and discussed the book Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. It was such a great experience to see everyone come together to have an open discussion on what they took away from this book and how women can tie it into their everyday lives.

The group also held a Women at Risk Pop-Up Shop where attendees could shop for beautiful jewelry and other hand-made gifts crafted by rescued and at-risk women. In addition, our CUSO staff helped raise funds for the Women at Risk organization. The group is also working on finding volunteer opportunities within the community.

Julie Gessner, Co-Chair of the Communication and Awareness group stated, “Creating strong connections is a vital component of any business. So many times, people get caught up in the day-to-day that they forget that connection is the space where inspiration is born and action takes place. For the women of our organization, CUSO Women is a safe space where connection occurs. It is within this collaboration that we keep hope alive when we may be feeling alone and inspire others that may not be a part of the network yet to join.”

The Communication and Awareness group works to find ways to increase engagement in the CUSO Women group and markets all events that employees and network partners can participate in. This group is currently working on an employee spotlight featured on CUSO Women members at our CUSO. They also send out all communication of the upcoming events hosted by the CUSO Women group.

Finally, the mentorship program of CUSO Women serves credit union members by developing and retaining the personal and professional skills of our CUSO mentees by matching them with mentors with more experience than themselves in our CUSO network. The culmination of all three committees has resulted in endless opportunities for career development and connection for every employee in our network.

The merits of employee groups

There are so many benefits to having a women’s development group within any organization. These groups help foster personal and professional development for employees along with cultivating a sense of belonging and creating the opportunity to connect with colleagues with whom participants may not interact on a regular basis. They also allow for networking opportunities to support cross-functional initiatives and inspire creativity and innovation.

Establishing a group like CUSO Women results in increased employee engagement and opens the door for involvement in the CUSO and credit union networks. If your organization does not currently have such a program, it is never too late to start one!

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