Breaking Barriers: Women's History Month and Credit Unions



March is Women’s History Month! This month is a great time to reflect and remember the contributions of women from around the world, and show gratitude for their vital role in history. At Members First Credit Union, we recognize that we have a lot to be grateful for. Not only do women have a significant impact on our credit union specifically, they play a large role in the history of all credit unions.

Women and Credit Union History

Just a few decades ago women in America were not able to get loans in their own name. Even if a woman was making her own money, she would still need a male relative to cosign for her. Thankfully, a group of women sought to change that. 

In 1973, the Feminist Federal Credit Union opened its doors, ready to help others get around the roadblocks put in place by sexism within financial institutions. A group of women put their resources together so that women with savings could lend it to other women who needed it.  

“There were people trying to change the laws, but in the meantime we thought, women aren’t able to get loans, so we started a credit union,” said Joanne Parrent, one of the founders of Feminist FCU. “We applied for the federal charter, and we did all the things we needed to do, we got the charter. People started signing up and we grew very quickly.”

Within the first weeks of opening, 75 women opened savings accounts totaling more than $16,000 in deposits. The first loans given were for a motorcycle, a kiln, college tuition and divorce attorney fees.

Eventually, women's voices were heard, and congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, making it unlawful for any creditor to discriminate against any applicant, with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction, on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age.

Today, the majority of household financial decisions are made by women, but we still have a long way to go. Women have significantly lower rates of financial literacy, and are three times more likely than men to say they can’t afford to save for retirement. Women are paid less, tend to save less, and live longer than men. They are also more likely to quit their jobs in order to care for a family member.

While women are still fighting for financial equality, we can be proud of how far we have come, proud of the role credit unions have played, and we can continue moving forward towards a more equitable future.

Women at Members First Credit Union

We have so many amazing women in the history of credit unions, and we have so many right here at Members First Credit Union. 205 of our 245 employees are female! That is about 84%.

“Women are significantly underrepresented in executive positions across all industries, particularly within the financial services sector,” said CUNA Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Samira Salem. “America’s credit unions are bucking this trend and our research shows that women not only have a seat at the table, but also play a major role in the financial success of the institution.” 

Carrie Iafrate recently became one of those women challenging the status quo in the financial industry by becoming the CEO of Members First Credit Union.

“As I have come into the CEO role this year I have felt overwhelmingly supported. I am especially proud to be a female CEO in the credit union movement,” says Iafrate. “As a group, we raise each other up, celebrate the achievements of others more than we do for ourselves, and are willing to collaborate in every way. “

Nationally, women run 51% of credit unions overall compared to only 3% at banks. 

“Our industry actively embraces empowering women!” Iafrate adds “Credit Unions in particular have afforded women many opportunities in the financial sector... I am even more honored to be a part of the future of the movement; putting in the hard work to continue to pave the way for aspiring leaders.”




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