As part of its ongoing research into DEI in CDFIs, FUND Community Institute focused its research on women in Native CDFIs (NCDFIs) to learn how they are experiencing diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations.
Interviews with four women working in Native CDFIs show that they tend to view their experiences at NCDFIs positively; all describe a sense of unity and partnership among Native CDFIs that may or may not be present across the wider CDFI industry. The following quotes highlight this sense of community:
“Working with other Native CDFIs, I would say that it is the trainings that have always brought Native CDFIs together through the years. In the early years, it was Oweesta or funded by the cohorts together with other Native CDFIs on specific topics built networks and built who you can call when you have an issue.”
“The NCDFI world is so small that everyone is hugging and knows everyone. It may be that we are all in our communities as well. We are very rural. Being in a small population size keeps it real.”
“All 9 staff members were born and raised here. I feel like that is probably a thing with CDFIs: Love of place drives you to do better where you live. We don’t really have anyone here that is not from here.”
“I think [DEI] is what Native CDFIs have always done. We exist because we weren’t included in other CDFIs in the first place…I haven’t had the opportunity to work with non-Native CDFIs, and that should tell you something. The Native CDFIs are like family. We work together for the same purpose.”
Yet all four interview participants also pointed to ways that DEI efforts could be enhanced in their organization:
“I don’t think we have a race-diversity issue; I think we have diversity issues with other categories. If you think of every privileged category, male/Christian/able-bodied/heterosexual, we have diversity issues, and we are probably minority-, female-focused. I don’t know about sexual identities at other CDFIs, but we aren’t being inclusive. I doubt we are inclusive with Christian/non-Christian or with people that are disabled. There are community members in all of those categories, so we need to be better at that.”
“I guess, from my perspective, we don’t have a lot of diversity. Everyone is raised here…I wish we had a little more diversity in ways of thinking. Even people who have left and experienced different things. People seem to get stuck in a rut, and that happens to everyone, but that would help here. Plus, we aren’t an attractive place to live for many, so getting diverse applicants is a challenge due to our location specifically because we are so rural.”
“The Native-specific “you aren’t Native” is hard. I had to report on NCN that I am not Native, and that was slightly embarrassing. You get dismissed if they don’t know you well. That feels very, I don’t know, discriminatory, but maybe not that far.”
Homogeneity within Native CDFIs may create an insularity that drives a strong sense of community among women in Native CDFIs and enhances their continued collaboration. Yet this could also be a factor that inhibits the growth of other forms of diversity, equity and inclusion, such as gender, sexual identity, religious affiliation and physical ability.