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Credit union managers #ChooseToChallenge

Community 2 min read

10 Mar 2021

As part of our celebration of International Women’s Day we’re acknowledging the incredible work and contribution made by women to the credit union movement on the island of Ireland.

From our analysis of a sample of 190 credit unions we found that 40% of management positions in credit unions are filled by females.

We are putting faces to those statistics this week and we spoke to Joan Gallagher, General Manager, Clare McLaughlin, Assistant Manager, both from Derry Credit Union and Claire O’Neill, Manager of Cookstown Credit Union to get an insight into how they got involved with the credit union, the challenges they faced, what is special about working for a credit union and their message of inspiration to other women.

Joan’s credit union journey started with her becoming a member “I joined Derry Credit Union as a member in 1986. Gerry and I were planning to get married. My then future sister-in-law said if you are going to live and work in Derry you had better join the credit union. Catherine proposed me for membership and accompanied me to the new members meeting. After that I was an active member. I saved in the credit union and then used the loan service to buy my first car, renovate my home and for all my borrowing needs.  I attended the AGM every year from joining and when the opportunity arose in 1998, I applied for, and was appointed as the General Manager of Derry Credit Union. “  

Clare told us she first got involved, (with a little push from her Mum!) by applying for a casual teller post, “From getting a temporary post as a casual teller, where I thought I would spend a few months until I decided what I wanted to do with my life, fast forward 18 years and I am still here and very happy to be. After taking up my post as a casual teller in 2003, I got a full-time post a year later. I have held various management posts from Senior Officer Cash Department, to Risk & Compliance Officer. I was appointed Assistant Manager just over 1 year ago, a role which I absolutely love. “

Claire’s involvement with Cookstown Credit Union started at a very young age. “I have been a member since I was a child. I joined the board 11 years ago aged 27, and held the role of assistant treasurer for a few years, then becoming treasurer, then manager in 2019.  I never once believed all them years ago I would be where I am today. I came on the board as a volunteer and through confidence I learned to have a voice in making decisions at board level. I would have been thinking I am the youngest board member and being female I wouldn’t be listened too.”

Both Joan and Clare recognised a challenge they faced was balancing work and family life.

Joan: “The biggest barrier was time pressure. As a mother of three children and working full-time on occasions, trying to juggle all your responsibilities fairly and ensuring you give your full attention to your job was a challenge.”

Clare: “When I was expecting the babies there was an assumption from a lot of people in my life that I would give up my career to be a mother. I never seen motherhood as a barrier to having a career, even though I had three all at once. Careers and motherhood can work together, it’s all about multi-tasking and time management.
With a very supportive employer and parents who have been, and continue to be a lifeline to my family I have been able to manage parenthood and a successful career. I now have 12 year old identical triplets boys and feel that as working Mum I am teaching them invaluable life lessons about working hard to achieve your dreams. “

We asked them what makes working for a credit union so special.

Joan: “I get to lead an organisation that is held in high regard in the city. I work as part of a dedicated team of people who believe in the credit union and its ethos. Collectively we have the opportunity to make a real positive impact on the individual member and on the community on a daily basis.”

Clare: “I really believe that we make a difference in our members lives and invest in our local economy. As a ‘Derry Girl’ born and bred I am proud to be part of the Derry CU team. Our credit union is ever evolving to meet the needs of our members, especially during the ongoing pandemic. We have always been here through good times and bad and will continue to be.”

Claire: “It’s very much a movement that I am proud to be involved in. I value the ethos of it, and aspire this in my daily working life. It’s all about giving back to the members in the community. We are not for profit organisation and are there to offer many services to the membership. Without a credit union many people would not be able to have what they have in life.”

Our final question was what would be their message they’d like to send out to women?

Joan: “You can achieve what you want as long as you apply yourself.  Read everything that is relevant to your role and keep yourself well informed and up to date. Take the opportunities offered to you no matter how small they may appear to be. Every experience has a value. Take all the support you are given and be generous with your time in return.  Give as much support and encouragement to your colleagues as is possible so that they too can achieve their full potential.”

Clare: “We are amazing, do not let anything hold you back!"

Claire: “Power has no gender, yet we believe mentally that this is a male domain.  The only way to overcome this is challenge them. The world needs strong women who are there to help each other along the way, instead of bringing each other down.”
Interested? Why not become part of the story! Join us today as a member or volunteer, and know you’ll be part of the fabric of your local community, and a movement who celebrates gender diversity and inclusion!