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ESL strives to cultivate strong workplace culture

In the nine years Shevonne Wroten has worked for ESL Federal Credit Union, everyone has always been extremely friendly and she has seen an emphasis on caring about people and doing the right thing.

Shevonne Wroten, a financial consultant in ESL Investment Services LLC’s Batavia office. (Matt Wittmeyer)

Shevonne Wroten, a financial consultant in ESL Investment Services LLC’s Batavia office. (Matt Wittmeyer)

“When I first started, I thought it was a little weird,” says Wroten, a financial consultant in ESL Investment Services LLC’s Batavia office. “I thought it was too good to be true. I thought the magic would go away. But it’s been consistent the whole time.”

As ESL Federal Credit Union celebrates its 100th anniversary, its employees say its workplace culture has remained intact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kaylee Kilpatrick, branch manager of ESL’s Fairport branch, says that “ESL went above and beyond to ensure our safety and the safety of our members. We felt that every step of the way we were being consulted and looked after as frontline employees.”

During the early days of New York’s shutdown this past spring, ESL cut back teller branch employees’ schedules to reduce the number of people on the premises, but everyone was still paid for their full 40 hours, Kilpatrick says.

“It gives you a sense of security to work for a company that cares so much about their employees, especially in these times,” Kilpatrick says.

Wroten says that she has a young daughter in school and ESL has made sure she has been able to work from home and assist her daughter with school.

Kaylee Kilpatrick, branch manager of ESL’s Fairport branch. (Matt Wittmeyer)

Kaylee Kilpatrick, branch manager of ESL’s Fairport branch. (Matt Wittmeyer)

The reason ESL has been able to weather the pandemic so well, its employees say, has been its core values of accountability, caring about people, teamwork, initiative and integrity.

ESL first articulated its core values in 2005 and reaffirmed them in 2016, says Maureen Wolfe, ESL’s senior vice president/director of human resources and community impact.

This year, the Great Place to Work employee survey placed ESL as number 61 on Fortune’s best small and medium workplaces list.

It is the 10th time ESL has made the list, Wolfe says.

The results from the Great Place to Work survey and ESL’s own internal survey inform ESL on how to improve its workplace culture, Wolfe says. ESL wants to see positive results on survey questions from at least 90 percent of employees — or it will make a plan to enact change in those areas, Wolfe says.

“We view surveys as very important,” Wolfe says. “Don’t do a survey if you’re not going to take the results very seriously.”

Both Kilpatrick and Wroten say that ESL is constantly asking for feedback and they both perceive that ESL truly puts that feedback into meaningful action and change.

Maureen Wolfe, ESL senior vice president and director, human resources and community impact. (Matt Wittmeyer)

Maureen Wolfe, ESL senior vice president and director, human resources and community impact. (Matt Wittmeyer)

In 2005, ESL’s internal survey showed that it was not performing well in recognizing employees, Wolfe says. As a result, ESL started a “really robust recognition program,” including a breakfast held with senior managers to share the stories of why employees have been given awards for exemplifying ESL’s core values. Employees could also get a $1,500 cash award as part of the recognition process.

The program “helped turn around how people felt about their jobs,” Wolfe says. “Managers, over the years, have become much more in tune with being better managers. We focus a lot on equipping managers for learning and success.”

If ESL is a great place to work, employees will be happier and will provide superior customer service, Wolfe says.

ESL also has made diversity and inclusion an important part of its workplace culture, employees say.

Adrienne Collier, who has been ESL’s diversity, equity and inclusion manager for 3.5 years, says ESL’s leaders know that it is important to mirror the diversity of the communities it serves in its employee base.

“We know that our workforce is more racially diverse than it was from 2013 to today,” Collier says. “Our workforce is 70 percent women. We’re multigenerational.”

Adrienne Collier, ESL’s diversity, equity and inclusion manager. (Matt Wittmeyer)

Adrienne Collier, ESL’s diversity, equity and inclusion manager. (Matt Wittmeyer)

ESL also is working to improve diversity at the mid-management level, the senior level of leadership and its board, Collier said.

ESL’s value of caring about people comes through in its commitment to diversity and inclusion, Collier says.

Collier notes that there has been a lot of racial unrest in the United Sate in 2020. “We lean on that value of caring about people,” Collier says. “We recognize that one community may be having challenges right now and we lean on that and we speak to how we should be supportive to our Black colleagues and community members at this time.”

As a young woman in a management position, Kilpatrick says that “it’s great to work for a company that recognizes hard work across the board.” Additionally, she says that ESL gives its employees the opportunity to participate in various community activities centered around diversity and inclusion.

Wroten says that, as a woman of color, she has “never once felt discriminated upon or never once passed over.”

“We see awful things in the world sometimes,” Wroten says. “It can be very depressing and disheartening.”

But Wroten says she can easily and comfortably raise issues about diversity and inclusion at ESL.

“That alone says so much,” Wroten says.

Amaris Elliott-Engel is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

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