Celebrating International Women’s Day – Sheenagh Young, CEO of South Manchester 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 fourth instalment of our series we hear from Sheenagh Young, CEO at South Manchester Credit Union about what inspired and empowered her achieve her career ambitions, and on the positive difference that inclusion has in the community finance sector.

My father always encouraged me to take responsibility for the bigger picture so I think it stemmed from there. I have three daughters and want the world to hold more opportunities for them to apply their gifts and skills. I now see many more women in leadership roles at my stage of life and I hope this encourages others.  I am motivated to take my place in working together with others to fix some of the inequalities in financial services – ownership and control over products and services belongs with ordinary local people and those people deserve access to credit when they need it as well as the dignity of fair rates. 

I think it is powerful for women to see other women enjoying their leadership roles and achieving positive change through it! Finding a mentor with just a bit more experience can be encouraging in helping women work out how to get to where they want to be career wise, and having peer support is also a great boost. 

Inclusion is in the DNA of credit unions and one of the reasons I wanted to work in this sector – and have stayed in it. It is ambitious to keep on holding inclusion as a priority as it takes consistent graft to push against some of the pressures from our cultural history and our current society that make it hard to achieve.

From afar inclusion can seem inconvenient, inefficient and costly – when in reality it brings a stimulus for equity and engagement which releases deeper potential to deliver financial services to a higher standard with a stronger long term impact. So we need inspiration to motivate us. 

The main barriers can come from early experiences and expectations for girls and young women that have limited their confidence with money decisions. There is a gap in financial education for young people which can make it hard to identify safe and helpful sources of financial advice and products. This is why our community credit union has set a long term strategy to grow our reach amongst local people aged 18-30 and to offer financial coaching for those first independent financial decisions.

Senior management in the credit union sector contains a much higher than average number of women – we can collectively choose to set a culture and tone which is welcoming to women.

Our average borrower is a woman with young children and our borrowers usually stay with us long term, all the time building a savings pot for their own and their families future.

Often these women are saving for the first time which has a positive effect on their ability to set financial goals for themselves and then achieve them. The improvements in financial wellbeing come from this and from belonging to a co-operative that they own and have a role in shaping for other women. 

This is a recent quote from one of our members in response to a member survey: 

‘I have been a member for many years now and I have always been treated with respect and kindness. When I go to the office as mature Black woman I find the way I’m treated in a professional and supportive way very reassuring and helpful. I would recommend and encourage my family and friends to open an account with Credit Union. Thank you.’

We are seeing an increase in women who are in situations of financial and domestic abuse. We know that we are a safe place for them and we can work with them to recover their finances and their lives. The feedback we receive is that this support at key points has really made a significant contribution to their financial confidence and helped their children to feel more secure again.

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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