GAC: A Follow-Up on Disturbing Story

(From Credit Union Times) – On March 18, Maps Credit Union Chief Risk Officer Rachel Pross published a LinkedIn post describing her experience at CUNA’s recent annual Governmental Affairs Conference. In that post, titled “Credit Unions, We Can Do Better,” Pross alleged that during the event, some male conference-goers chose to “practically drape” themselves over her and kiss her on the cheek rather than shake her hand when they introduced themselves. Other men allegedly put their hands on her lower back. One called her “Pretty Face” for the duration of the conference, she said. In addition, Pross said she was “repeatedly cut off, spoken over or blatantly dismissed” at a lunch with a male credit union CEO, and at one point during the conference, a male attendee allegedly walked up behind a female attendee and licked her shoulder.

We reached out to Pross to hear why she decided to tell her story publicly, what the reaction has been like for her and what she thinks should happen next. Here’s what she said.

Editor’s Note: Answers were edited for grammar and style. CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle has issued a response to Pross’ post on LinkedIn. Stay tuned for the April 17, 2019 print issue of CU Times, which will include a feature story on behavioral codes of conduct at credit union conferences, and how conference organizers are working to prevent harassment at credit union events.

CU Times: Was there a particular incident or moment during or after GAC that inspired you to write the post?

Pross: This year’s GAC, for whatever reason, had a much more overt tone to it. One board member’s comment to me was so offensive, so inappropriate, and so unbelievably insulting and disgusting that I was physically shaking with anger as I walked away. Not even an hour later, a different board member called out, “Which room again?” as I stood up to call it a night and head upstairs. I’ve had enough. I am a competent professional with a passion for this industry, and I’ll never let someone speak to me like that again. It’s unacceptable, period. What really prompted me to speak up publicly was a brief conversation with a young, female GAC crasher who asked me, “Is it always like this?” after observing inappropriate behavior and comments from older credit union executives and board members. I thought, “If we don’t talk about these things openly, how will we ever see change?”

CU Times: Did you have any reservations about telling your story publicly?

Pross: No, I really didn’t. If I can’t stand up and speak the truth about a glaring problem in our industry without a tidal wave of backlash, then I’m in the wrong industry.

CU Times: Have you seen the behavior you witnessed at GAC take place at other credit union conferences? If so, would you please elaborate?

Pross: I think we’ve all seen bad behavior from time to time at industry events, and most of us can probably reflect on past behavior or comments that we regret years later. I’m no exception. I’ve never seen such overt harassment at a credit union conference before as I did at this year’s GAC. I kept thinking to myself, “I’ve worked my entire career to be a part of this, and now I’ve flown cross-country to be either completely dismissed or openly harassed by dirty old men? When did this ever become accepted in our industry?”

CU Times: What has the positive reaction to your LinkedIn post been like for you?

Pross: I’ve truly been blown away by the reaction. As of [April 3, 2019], the article has been read 7,000 times and shared all over the country. I’ve received hundreds of private messages, too, and they have been overwhelmingly positive. Our industry is brimming with good human beings. It really is. It’s time we root out the cancer and set a higher bar. This is 2019. NO ONE – no matter what race, gender or gender identity, disability, appearance, body shape, age, religion, sexual orientation, body size, job title or any other “category” – should be treated the way I was treated at GAC this year. I know for a fact that I wasn’t alone, and the things I shared in my LinkedIn article are only examples of the broader problem.

CU Times: What has the negative reaction to your LinkedIn post been like for you?

Pross: I’m not one to dwell on the negative, and I feel no need to defend myself. People will think what people will think, and I have no control over that. The negative comments were few and far between, thankfully.

CU Times: What advice do you have for other women attending credit union conferences this year?

Pross: Bring a megaphone and brass knuckles! Kidding, kidding. Our industry is awesome. I just hope that women will speak up when they’re mistreated. Nothing changes if nothing changes. As uncomfortable as it feels at the time, we’ve got to call this stuff out. Don’t accept it, and ignore those ignorant, “When you run with the big boys …” comments. Not only that, but we should speak up for others when, for whatever reason, they aren’t able to. It’s OK to say, “You know, that was really inappropriate.” Or, “I’d like to hear what she was trying to say before you cut her off.”

CU Times: What do you think the solution is to reduce or stop inappropriate behavior at credit union conferences?

Pross: I really believe the solution is with every single one of us, and I can’t pretend to have all the answers. I think it starts with talking about it, setting expectations, communicating those expectations and holding people in our industry accountable to them. It’s also about diversity with inclusion. Not “à la carte” diversity.