Editor’s note: This is the third post in an 5-part series on Shared Prosperity: Our Corporate Responsibility in a Time of Consternation.
In my last blog post based on my position paper, Shared Prosperity: Our Corporate Responsibility in a Time of Consternation. I wrote about fostering and nurturing a corporate culture that is both diverse and inclusive, one where there are many voices at the table and empowered to engage. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. This applies to community building as well.
During one of my first senior management meetings, which includes roughly 10% of our organization, I invited the St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Alliance (SLEHCRA) to present on the importance of extending credit to all people. Years prior this very organization charged that the bank was not being fair in our lending practices, that we were serving the credit needs of the residents of predominantly white neighborhoods to a significantly greater extent than we were serving the credit needs of majority African-American neighborhoods. They said that the banking system, including our bank, was contributing to vast amounts of wealth being stripped from minority communities in a practice generally known as “redlining.”
At this challenging period, we could have checked the necessary boxes to address the concerns, but we chose to dig in deeper. Through the unique vision of my predecessor, Jim Watson, we began to organize behind a powerful and simple idea: Let’s change people’s lives by giving them greater access to financial and other resources that give them a shot at winning. With a new vision supported by our majority owners, board and executive team, Midwest BankCentre’s significance and impact on the St. Louis region has grown exponentially.
I know that it is not uncommon for leaders at the top of an organization to adopt an inclusive mindset and for that mindset not to penetrate the organization. I thought during this, one of my first senior management meetings that we should bring this functionally diverse group of colleagues to the table to listen and learn about the real community issues and our role, not from internal evangelist but external activists. Admittedly, this was an unusual move. It is far more common for the relationship with an organization like SLEHCRA to be visible only to top-level bank executives. But my goal with this and all activities like it is simply to continue the effort of ensuring that people deeper in the bowels of the organization, those with power over hiring, contracts, products lending and process, understand the significance of the bank’s impact in the community. The team from SLEHCRA were great. They challenged the group and commended the bank.
By taking this deep dive with SLEHCRA, it opened our eyes, minds and hearts to the broader challenges underserved communities face. It opened our eyes, minds and hearts to understand that we were in a position to influence and change these realities around credit. And I’d like to believe that we moved a few steps further in the understanding of all leaders of our continued commitment under new executive leadership to push even further, coming alongside others to build marginalized communities through the issuance of credit.
Each day we push intentionally to truly see people, understand their dreams and offer them products and pathways to engage to achieve those dreams.