Interra Credit Union began as a Farm Bureau credit union in 1932 with $5 pledges from seven charter members. It is now a SEG and community charter credit union with $691 million in assets and nearly 54,000 members served through its 11 branches. Amy Sink began her cooperative career at another large Indiana credit union – the now $2.4B Teachers Credit Union – where she was involved in a host of operations and most recently held the positions of senior vice president and chief financial officer. She was named CEO of Interra last year.
Women have always been well represented in the credit union industry and I feel it is a place where leaders of both genders can thrive. When I was pursuing my degrees, I noticed that a large percentage of my classmates in the academic disciplines of accounting and business were women as well. I’ve always felt at home in the financial services industry, but women who rise to the executive level can and do face challenges.
Advice For Aspiring Leaders
I’d counsel all up-and-coming professionals to spend time learning to negotiate effectively. Negotiation is a skill that can be continually developed and I think all leaders, especially women, should seek out ways to enhance their abilities in this area.
Too many of us neglect this business skill and there is no reason to do so. There are courses readily available on the subject and aspiring leaders can find mentors to help counsel them in the art of negotiation. Personally, I have found that spending time honing my negotiation skills has been very valuable for my credit union.
Voices In The Industry
Calling all future CEOs. If you’re looking for additional insights from some of the industry’s most well established executives, make sure to check out the “Voices In The Industry” section in the upcoming 1Q 2014 edition of Credit Union Strategy & Performance.
One tip for more effective negotiations is to determine the motivations of everyone involved. This means getting to know who stands to gain something and who stands to lose something, along with what exactly that “something” is. There is often more to a situation than first meets the eye.
You also need to understand the bigger story when you are negotiating. Every strategy has a background or a past, a present set of circumstances, and a future vision. Once you understand all of this, including the parties involved and their motivations, then you can start to effectively negotiate for changes that align with your vision.
Plan Ahead For Contingencies
Always go into a negotiation with a plan. I counsel fellow women in the industry to recognize that there is a strategy being played — like a chess game — and you have to think ahead about possible moves.
As a leader, you also need to consider and plan for contingencies. Know what your ideal outcome is, but think about what other acceptable outcomes might be. It is also critical to know when to walk away. When dealing with large vendor contracts, it can be easy to feel like you’re stuck and assume that there is no room to negotiate but that is rarely the case. They have a lot to lose if you move to another provider, even if the process takes another 18 months.
Understand And Adjust for Different Players
We all need to adjust at times to connect with our audience. I tend to be a direct person, but if I find that isn’t working then I will change my approach to get the job done. Men and women tend to view work differently and this needs to be taken into account. For example, men are more likely to see business initiatives as victories or defeats, as one would describe the outcome of a sporting event.
When you understand how your audience views a given situation, it can be easier to communicate effectively. There are not only gender differences at play, but generational and other differences that we all have to recognize and adjust for at times. This doesn’t mean that we have to completely change our delivery or accept anything less than respectful dialogue, but it may mean we need to tweak our style to suit the situation and audience.
Tips For Female Executives
One of the biggest challenges women in management positions face is pretty well documented in the media: an overloaded life. Working mothers are expected to fulfill home tasks as well as stay ahead on the job and executive-level mothers can find that even female friends who are not in similar high-pressure jobs cannot relate. Everyone needs to decompress, so finding the outlet that works best for you and doing it regularly will allow you to handle the different kinds of stress you face at work and at home more effectively.
One last tip, when you are planning for negotiations or other serious situations you should factor in how you dress and the colors you wear. When I am about to engage in a serious discussion or when I am not sure what is coming, I wear something conservative like a blue or a black suit — I want to be prepared. I’d never wear pink — unless I was going to an all-female meeting and wanted to highlight my feminine side.
Women can succeed in the financial services world. They have demonstrated this in credit unions already, but we still have more work to do and more opportunities to capitalize on.
— As Told To Brooke C. Stoddard and Sharon Simpson