Celebrating International Women’s Day – Karen Bennett, CEO of Enterprise Credit Union

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve been speaking to some of the many inspirational women leaders across the community finance sector. In the second instalment of our series we hear from Karen Bennett, CEO at Enterprise Credit Union and a former President of the Association of British Credit Unions (ABCUL), about her background and journey to becoming a good leader, and just how important it is that we create a diverse and inclusive financial services sector where everyone, regardless of gender, background, or circumstance, has equal access to opportunities.

In all honesty coming from a voluntary background I really don’t think I was motivated by career prospects and certainly not as a leader when I set out many moons ago. I was just determined to make my credit union successful and the best it could be for the members.

The people I have been honoured to work with brought, and do bring out the best in me. I think it was their belief in me that encouraged and empowered me to push myself and, in all honesty made me the leader I am today. I was probably one of the youngest CEOs at the time and definitely one of the first paid members of staff in the credit union space here in Liverpool! If the credit union was to become successful then I had to as well. I think I am a good leader nowadays and delighted to say we have both gone from strength to strength. 

We must, and in areas all over the UK I think we are increasing female representation, but it’s not enough. As we know there are glass ceilings waiting to be broken across the financial sector and for many years we thought impossible. I really do believe things are changing now, indeed one of my directors in my credit union is much younger than me and is an area manager of one of the largest high street banks, she leads of team of predominantly male team members and is fantastic at it.

I am delighted that credit unions in UK and certainly the credit unions I know have a higher percentage of female leaders than male and much more compared to larger countries across the globe. It’s not surprising though, certainly in credit unions like my own there has always been a higher percentage of female members than males. It has been those females who volunteered in the early days and then started thinking of paid roles as their credit unions became sustainable. I think it’s key that we have policies that address gender bias and promote work-life balance which creates a more inclusive environment for all employees regardless of their gender.

This year’s theme of ‘Inspiring Inclusion’ resonates deeply with me as it underscores the importance of creating a diverse and inclusive financial services sector where everyone, regardless of gender, background, or circumstance, has equal access to opportunities.

Some of the main barriers that hinder women from accessing mainstream and alternative finance include gender bias and discrimination, lack of collateral and credit history. Addressing these barriers requires concerted efforts to promote gender equality, expand financial education initiatives, and develop inclusive financial products and services tailored to the needs of women.

Credit unions and community finance institutions play a vital role in improving the financial wellbeing and independence of women by providing access to affordable financial services, promoting financial education and literacy, and offering personalised support and guidance. I know credit unions prioritise inclusivity and cater to the diverse needs of their members, including women, by offering flexible lending options, and savings products, it’s more than that though it’s also helping them build their own confidence around finance and help them with their independence. 

Credit unions and community finance institutions can have a significant impact on improving the financial lives of women in vulnerable circumstances by providing them with a safe and supportive environment to access financial services and resources. These institutions offer alternative financial solutions tailored to the unique needs of women facing challenges such as domestic violence, homelessness, or financial instability. By fostering empowerment and resilience, credit unions and community finance empower women to achieve financial stability and independence.

We know from our latest segmentation research that women are at a greater risk of financial exclusion because of gender specific barriers, which can heighten cost-of-living pressures and weaken financial resilience – you can read more about these barriers to inclusion here.

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