Celebrating International Women’s Day – Marlene Shiels, CEO at Capital Credit Union

Last week was International Women’s Day, and to celebrate we’ve been speaking to some of the many inspirational women leaders across the community finance sector.

In the sixth and final instalment of our series we hear from Marlene Shiels, CEO at Capital Credit Union and member of the Board at the Money and Pensions Service about how Capital Credit Union are trying to support women in their local community, and on how the wider credit union sector can play an important role in driving gender inclusion and financial resilience.

To be honest I never set out with any aspirations to be in a leadership role, but both hard work and a little of being in the right place at the right time played a significant part in me ending up where I am today.

That, together with good mentors, has empowered me to be the person I am – it is of course for others to decide if I am a good leader. 

It is vitally important that we create space, and a supportive environment for women to succeed in financial services. Work patterns, as a result of the pandemic, I think have helped somewhat, but the culture of an organisation is so important in encouraging women to try things and not be afraid to fail.

Inspiring inclusion to me means a happier workplace. As well as building trust in the workplace, inclusion helps people feel more valued and an important part of the success of an organisation. 

Recognising everyone’s difference and unique perspectives, is what I believe inspires us all to do better, and helps us make better business decisions for our members here at Capital Credit Union, over 52% of which are women getting on with life. 

Thankfully some of the barriers women faced in accessing financial services in years gone by have gone, for example not being able to open a bank account in own name. This is true to a greater extent in the UK versus some other countries, where this is still a major issue, but there are still barriers that exist.

Generally women still earn less than men which creates an economic barrier to accessing financial services. Often we will see unequal domestic responsibilities which means women have less opportunity to earn higher salaries; women are still traditionally the caregivers and this affects their ability to work and study, which, in turn impacts on access to some forms of financial services. 

As member owned organisations, credit unions are really well placed to understand the needs of members and tailor products and services accordingly. Having a focus, and ensuring female members have access to affordable, accessible savings and loans, to help them make their own financial decisions, is critical to helping women build their own financial future.

Ensuring flexibility in how women particularly can access products is just as important, whether digital, face to face, by telephone, or even in writing. Not taking a one size fits all approach to saving and borrowing is also an important role that credit unions play in empowering members, but particularly women, to become economically independent, which, in turn, helps improves wellbeing, financially and mentally.

Capital Credit Union has a very robust financial inclusion and community development agenda, which sees us support people and organisation across our community through our Community Development Fund. We also open our building to community groups to access, free of charge, for meetings and get togethers.

Capital Credit Union is actively seeking out groups that support women that would benefit from flexible, accessible, confidential, financial services and are open to ideas on how we can use our resources to provide support. 

Credit Unions use the International Credit Union Principles International Operating Principles | World Council of Credit Unions (woccu.org) to make sure that every decision, every product and service, impacts positively on its members, regardless of social or economic circumstances.

As smaller financial institutions, with fewer layers of bureaucracy, it is much easier to step outside the normal policies and support individual circumstances.

Ensuring that women are well represented on Boards of Directors and Leadership Teams is also critically important and providing a framework and opportunities for women to participate should be the norm, not the exception.

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.