billion VyStar Credit Union inJacksonville, Fla., in June. Withinjust six months, he has successfully led the development of DEIinitiatives for Florida’s secondlargest credit union, which employs more than 2,000 full-timeand part-time people who operate 80 branches and serve nearly
Some of VyStar’s accomplishments include implementing a“Let’s Talk About It” initiativethat facilitates safe and respectful discussions about difficult DEIissues, establishing employee resource groups and social groupsto give a voice to minority employees, veterans, employees with dis-abilities and working parents, anddeveloping a gender and racialmanagement analysis throughoutthe entire organization to advancediversity and inclusion within theleadership ranks.
“It takes commitment, dedication and the resources because asBrian [Wolburg, president/CEO ofVyStar] says, we need to put ourmoney where our mouth is, andI’m really proud to work at a company that is doing that,” Braswellsaid. “Are we perfect yet? No. Arewe going to have to deal with allof the isms from racism to sexism,to multiculturalism as a country?
Yes, but what we hope at Vystar
is to be the beacon of light in the
credit union industry, an organi-
zation that’s engaged in doing it
right. And setting practices that
we will share with others to con-
tinue to move forward and never
let diversity and inclusion fade
Braswell was one of a slew of DEI
vice presidents who were hired by
credit unions during the summer
and fall months following the kill-
ing of George Floyd in May and the
subsequent demonstrations and
protests that elevated a new nation-
al awareness and action to address
social and racial inequalities.
In fact, the fastest-growingC-suite title in 2020 was “chiefdiversity officer.” According to aLinkedIn analysis of nearly 100,000C-suite hires in the U.S. from January to October, the appointmentsof chief diversity officers grew 84%as a proportion of the total of senior executives hired last year.
For Braswell, his circuitous career path eventually led him to become a DEI leader about 30 yearsafter that unhappy and life-chang-ing experience at the theme park.In 2003 he was hired as a technicalservices manager at Walt DisneyWorld, and three years later wasnamed manager of global strategies for diversity and inclusion forWalt Disney Parks and Resorts,where he worked with Marty Sk-lar, a legendary Disney Imagineer.
“So actually I’m a weird animal,”
Braswell acknowledged. “I’m high
tech and high touch with an un-
dergraduate degree in informa-
tion technology, and my graduate
degree was in HR. But I had some
incredible team members that
were with me at Disney.” Before
joining the civilian workforce in
1992 and working in a variety of
industries, he served in the United
States Marine Corps as a crypto-
logic technician and analyst, and
as a Bahasa Indonesian Linguist.
He also held a DEI leadership
position at the Mayo Clinic in
As a D&I executive, Braswellworked in Disney’s imaginationsprogram, which identified menand women from around theworld to join the organization’snew generation of Imagineerswith whom he developed long-term relationships.
“When you can create a platform for people to feel authentically able to represent who theyare and in bringing their bestself to the table, be heard andfeel a sense of belonging, I thinkthat’s what D&I is all about,” heexplained.
After establishing the creditunion’s first-ever DEI policy,mission and goals, Braswell andhis team developed a structurethrough initiatives and programsto help VyStar employees beheard and feel a sense of belonging to the organization similar tothe environment Braswell helpeddevelop during his Disney Worlddays.
The concept of the credit union’s“Let’s Talk About It” initiativesprang from a branch vice president who was challenged by herfeelings and thoughts about thesocial injustice and unrest thatwas occurring throughout Floridaand the rest of the nation followingthe tragic killing of George Floydand others, in addition to numerous pressures and stresses causedby the coronavirus economic andhealth crisis.
Because of the political climate,cultural sensitivities and otherbarriers, the branch vice president didn’t feel she could talkabout the issues that were looming over her like a dark cloud.
To help leaders have difficultconversations about DEI issues,VyStar used the 13 principles developed by Valencia College’s Peaceand Justice Institute. The principlesset ground rules that create a hospitable and accountable community that enables people to speaktheir truth, listen deeply, suspendjudgements, practice asking honestand open questions, and give spacefor unpopular answers.
The first “Let’s Talk AboutIt” discussion was rolled out atbranches in one region. The conversations centered on the political climate, the cultural sensitivities and the social unrest thatwere at the heart of the protestsoccurring around the country.
“It was amazing to watch the
small group exercises that al-
lowed for a platform to share how
employees felt and the relation-
ships that were built from that,”
Braswell said. “We probably
saved that young branch vice
president from leaving our orga-
nization because she found out
that other people care.”
He noted that the conversations
also broke down the barriers of
thoughts like “I don’t really know
what to say. I want to say some-
thing, but I don’t know how to say
it and I don’t want to get it wrong.
So, I’m not going to say anything.”
“What happened out of the
first sessions helped continue re-
lationships among branch vice
presidents. Even though they are
in a competitive environment
with each other to be the best and
the brightest, they nevertheless
began reaching out to each other
to say, ‘Are you OK?’ ‘How are
you feeling today?’” Braswell said.
“And that builds a sense of unity,
an environment where you are
important, and that sense of be-
longing that I think all organiza-
tions would want to have happen.”
VyStar also created Employee
Resource Groups (ERGs) based on
the seven protected classes under
the Civil Rights Act, which include
race, color, religion, national ori-
gin, sex, disability and familial
status. What’s more, the credit
union also established social net-
work groups with commonalities
such as working parents, employ-
ees over 50 and emerging leaders.
The ERGs and social networksmeet on a weekly, monthly oras-needed basis to discuss work-place topics and issues, and makerecommendations to the Employee Resource Group Leadership Council, which is made upof leaders from every ERG. Thegroups also set goals to participate in community events, sponsor projects and conduct internalactivities such as celebrating minority groups and educating employees about their cultures.
The credit union producedits first-ever DEI calendar that,for example, highlights AfricanAmerican contributions andmilestones during Black History Month, including recipes onhow to make a sweet potato pieand other dishes. What’s more,the Shades of Success employeeresource group is using Share-Point to educate employees aboutprominent African Americansand their achievements.
The Shades of Success groupalso will be funding a new bookthat will chronicle how young students across the nation have managed the challenges they havefaced during the pandemic. Additionally, the parent group and theChange and Success employeeresource group is donating fundsto provide more than 200 books toJacksonville students.
Another dimension to Vystar’sDEI efforts is its gender and racialmanagement analysis that is looking at the organization’s leadership structure, from supervisorsto senior executives.
“When people are working inan organization, they’re alwayslooking to see if they can seethemselves in the organizationalleadership,” Braswell said.
In addition to reviewing theleadership structure, the nextphase of the analysis includes establishing benchmark data thatwill help set the credit union’s DEIstrategic direction over the nextthree years. n
DEICONT. FROM PAGE 1
Y VyStar was among one of the first credit unionsto hire a new vice president of diversity, equityand inclusion.
Y As the first DEI vice president for VyStar CreditUnion, Allie Braswell wasted no time and hasalready reached several milestones.
Y The credit union plans to share its learningswith the industry.