FUND Community Institute expanded its recent research on women in CDFIs by exploring women’s general DEI experiences in Native CDFIs (NCDFIs) and as they relate to gender. Although the findings suggest that the matrilineal culture present in many Native communities helps bolster the role of women in NCDFIs, interviewees more emphatically described multiple challenges related to gender in their respective organizations.
The following quotes illustrate the influence of matrilineal culture in Native CDFIs:
“I would say that even in Native households, the woman has traditionally been a role model and keeps things together, and in the Native world there may be more of an edge than in the CDFI industry as a whole. Looking at my mentors, there are men, but they have been primarily female.”
“We just did mortgage lending, and the first five mortgages were to women. Women are at the center of the family…maybe [they are not] always the breadwinner, but they keep the family together. USDA 502 did a pilot here…all of the women are low-income, and most have two kids and are sole breadwinners for their family. I wasn’t expecting that. To get a mortgage, you usually need two incomes.”
“Most of our directors are women and hold high positions everywhere with the exception of the governing body.”
“To our detriment sometimes, we lead with community-mindedness rather than making money. So even as a NCDFI, it is helpful to track us differently since we are unique in how we talk about our work. Our main purpose is to build our nation of people. So women will be favored in that environment and [it will be] easier for them to talk in a caregiver way. At OFN and with the larger CDFIs, people want to talk about return on investment, interest rates, portfolios, and I think that favors the male way of thinking about work. It’s more business-minded. Now I’ve just generalized all women; it depends on what kind of woman you are.”
Yet even as the positional strength of women in Native communities might translate into their professional roles in Native CDFIs, the interviewees still experience the historical biases women writ large have faced professionally.
“Being female isn’t the best when you have an older male loan client and they get upset; sometimes I wish I were a man so I could handle those situations better.”
“There is definitely a gap that exists. I believe that I am in intelligent person that could learn anything, but I think that I the financial world, it leans heavily male…I think if I was a male talking the way I do, I would make greater headway…I was offered $55,000 for this position, and a man would have negotiated for more.”
Additionally, some of the women interviewed have experienced what they characterize as organizational impediments as a result of their status as mothers working in and leading NCDFIs.
“I have a one- and a two-year-old. In those two years of having kids, I’ve definitely noticed the organization be set back in that period. If you can’t constantly be advocating for your communities, you lose out, and that burden isn’t placed on men in the same way. My organization has always been woman-led, and I have had a lot of support, but I am critical of my working schedule.”
Yet amid these experiences with gender bias, one of the interviewees expressed an awareness for the need to be inclusive so that gender bias is not perpetuated against the men in her organization.
“Sometimes we have to watch our biases against men and make sure we are accounting for their views as well because we have two male staff members. That does play out in performance evaluations and communications. The men show performance differently than women do, especially in communication, and we need to be aware of that. My communication style favors the women, and I need to make sure I am inclusive.”
This research reveals that gender roles in NCDFIs are likely influenced by the same historical gender biases that exist for women beyond the CDFI industry, despite the strong matrilineal culture present in many Native communities. Yet, as the case of one interviewee demonstrates, women in NCDFIs may be more attuned to their own gender-related biases as a result, which could prompt them to be intentional in designing ways to mitigate those biases.