Having conversations regarding DEI has been a critical part of providing leadership throughout the banking community. WBA spoke with Leslie Drish, director, diversity and inclusion at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago (FHLBank Chicago or Bank), to better understand how to begin developing a plan for making diversity, equity, and inclusion a strong part of your bank.

Q: What was FHLBank Chicago’s process to establishing objectives around diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Drish: "Every three years, we are required by the Office of Women and Minority Inclusion to develop a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategic plan. This year, we began the process with our DEI committee, which is made up of eight different employees from the Bank who represent different levels and different departments. We also involved a number of employees who lead our DEI working groups and our employee resource groups.

"A key factor in the development of our strategic plan is looking at DEI data. In 2019, we conducted focus groups with our employees, some of our members, and some of our trade associations. We reviewed that feedback, and we also looked at our employee engagement survey from 2019 to determine what our engagement priorities should be, how they aligned with the mission of the Bank, our goals, and priorities, and how other companies have approached DEI. There was a great deal of data and research. From there we determined what we wanted to have as the foundation of who we are as a Bank, and that helped us establish our objectives around diversity, equity, and inclusion."

Q: You mentioned a DEI committee. What’s the significance behind having a team approach to this at FHLBank Chicago rather than one or two people?

"Diversity, equity, and inclusion have to be embedded in everything we do. Many organizations only look at diversity as a talent objective, but to make a deeper positive impact and provide meaningful support for our customers, we have to think about the policies, practices, and procedures in every aspect of the organization. That’s why we ensured we had employees from all different areas of the Bank included in the conversation because they brought a different lens regarding how our work impacts their specific department or area. We wanted them to think about those policies: What is it that we offer? What’s missing from these products? Is everyone able to access our products? Your bank’s DEI work should not be about checking a box and it should not be thought of as something that is separate from everything else. You really have to consider DEI when you are thinking about all of your bank’s objectives."

Q: It seems like a lot of planning has gone into this. What are some of the most important things for banks to consider when first establishing these objectives?

"It’s important for everyone on your team, especially your leadership, to be committed to these objectives. This commitment comes from the top, so leaders must have an inclusive mindset and they need to talk about it. They’re setting that example. Here at FHLBank Chicago, our leadership is participating in a lot of these activities and initiatives. They’re participating in training, they’re going to events, and they’re discussing all of this with their teams. I think all of that is extremely helpful because it’s setting the tone for the rest of the organization. If our executive team is invested in this, that trickles down to our employees and to our members.

"More banks are truly starting to recognize that when you bring other voices into the conversation and when you get ideas from different perspectives, you end up with a better product and you’re then better able to serve your customers. At our organization, diverse perspectives are strongly encouraged. And, everybody is driven for all the right reasons."

Q: When taking that first step to establishing DEI goals, what are your recommendations to help get more people on the same page?

"It’s not something you figure out and then you’re finished with. DEI work is always evolving because you’re dealing with people. The conversations I’m having now are very different from the ones I was having 10 years ago. What I have noticed though is that these conversations are often uncomfortable, and the people who show the greatest signs of success in DEI work are the ones who allow themselves to be aware, open, vulnerable, and authentic.

"Often, people think inclusion is listening to everyone and implementing every idea that comes through the door; that’s not the case. Inclusion is about hearing those different perspectives, understanding them, debating them, and aligning it all with your company’s culture and values. You have to truly determine what is going to be the best outcome, and make sure you’re hiring a diverse staff to help get you there.

"You also have to be flexible when doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work. As people and perspectives change, be open to new ways of approaching how you’re doing business. Don’t just say that since you now have ‘x’ person on the team that you’ve achieved diversity, because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about having those diverse voices present, ensuring all perspectives are heard and valued, and being willing to shift these ideas and perspectives as our surroundings change. It’s challenging, but it’s necessary. We have to adjust when we recognize that a solution we’ve created doesn’t solve the problem to everyone."

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago is a WBA Gold Associate Member.

Continue this conversation on Dec. 9 at the Conversation on Racial Equity Hosted by Wisconsin Bankers Association, Sponsored by Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago.