Civil Rights Journey Inspires a Board

Civil Rights Journey Inspires a Board

Directors, executives and employees at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago traveled to Alabama historic sights to bolster “a community mindset.”

The board members of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago joined top management and some employees from the bank on a journey to Alabama to explore the history of civil rights.

“The trip was designed to be a learning experience for the attendees and allow us to more effectively create a more diverse and more inclusive organization,” says Lois Scott, a director at the bank.

“Rather than corporate-speak about diversity and inclusion,” she explains, “the trip let me reflect on my personal experiences as a white girl from rural America who spent my adult life in big, complex cities like Chicago, the experiences of the individuals around me whose lives may be so different from my own, and the systemic forms of oppression we have been part of — knowingly or not.”

Scott, who also sits on the boards of Kroll Bond Rating Agency and ASC - ST Holdings, helped spearhead the trip. This type of socially focused approach has been the hallmark of her career and something she’s seeing more of among the private companies where she sits on the board

“There is greater freedom for private company boardrooms to explore what the right things to do are,” she explains, adding that she’s hearing more about environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues among privately held firms.

There’s a growing understanding of the value of things like gender and racial equity and “a community mindset,” Scott points out. “It used to be a feel good, but now it’s seen as a value driver.”

For her part, Scott, who was the chief financial officer for the City of Chicago and is now the vice chair of the Chicago Stock Exchange, tends to choose her board based on a company’s commitment to not just the bottom line, but also the greater social good.

“How we invest our money is a moral statement on what we believe as a people and as a society,” she notes. “All the boards I serve on put community and character as a core value driver and they bring that to the boardroom.”

The trip to Alabama was an example of management “putting its money where its mouth is. The more we understand our community the more we can design products that address the real needs of the community, and that’s goodwill for our employees.”

Employees, she says, “are putting their time and talent into something at a company and they want to feel the glow of doing the right thing in the right way.”

The trip to Alabama was attended by 40 people from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, including 13 board members, nine executives and five employees who were randomly selected.

“It is impossible to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a memorial to over 4000 lynching victims, to visit the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Rosa Parks Museum and so many other sights and not be deeply, deeply moved,” Scott says. “Sharing those moments with each other and processing what it meant to each of us was transformative. Our ways of experiencing the world and interacting with others are deeply embedded in our souls.  And yet in our daily work, we often fail to acknowledge and embrace those differences.”

“I think it is safe to say,” she adds, “that every board member came back from Alabama as a changed person, filled with compassion for others, renewed commitment to doing right by each person we work with and a new list of questions we each ponder about leadership.”