California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ Vice President of Credit Union Solutions and Membership Tonja Wheatley plans to retire April 28 after nearly 17 years with the Leagues. In honor of Women’s History Month and Wheatley’s upcoming retirement, we asked her to reflect on her career and how we can better support future women in the credit union industry.
I’ve been in the industry and with the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues for almost 17 years. I was in the medical industry for 15 years prior. I switched industries because I wanted a career that would be challenging and allow me to better balance being a mom.
A good friend of mine, Maryann Northup, who worked at the League at the time thought it would be a good fit and recommended I apply for the Director of CU Solutions position. Obviously, she was right, and the rest is history.
Although I was new to credit unions, I had years of experience managing different sales teams and was able to use that expertise to build on the Leagues’ strong foundation in my role as Director of CU Solutions. Eventually, membership was also added to my responsibilities, and I was promoted to Vice President of CU Solutions and Membership. Our team is dedicated to building relationships with our member credit unions and being a valuable resource in helping them serve their members.
I’ve always been involved in attending and supporting various Networks (formally known as Chapters) throughout my career. I have enjoyed being a member of the CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council and served as a member of their membership committee. I am also a member of The Global Women’s Leadership Network, and I am very proud to have been part of initiating the Western Region Chapter of The African American Credit Union Coalitions (AACUC) where I served as Vice President of the board.
Besides my mom, who is my #1 inspiration, I’ve had some strong women leaders in my career. My first manager at Johnson & Johnson was Ellen Preston, and she gave me tough and direct feedback that helped me build a strong character and confidence to succeed in a male-dominated industry that was also not very diverse at the time. It has also been a great privilege to work with Diana Dykstra during my time at the Leagues. Her passion and energy is contagious and I always felt inspired to give my best. Besides being a great leader, she is a friend and a lot of fun to work with. Lastly is Renee Sattiewhite, AACUC president. I am inspired by the challenges she has overcome and what she has built. She is a team builder and makes everyone around her better, including me. I value all lessons and insights these women have given me throughout my life and career. They are truly inspiring individuals.
I’ve always felt supported by the women in this industry and have made some lifelong friends. Although I’ve seen progress, there is still work to be done to see more women and women of color at the executive level.
I think it is important to have mentors and leaders that you respect and that will give you honest feedback. I have and will always encourage credit unions as the best place to bank and work!
I plan to do something I haven’t done a lot of … relax and not make any immediate plans or commitments. I am a big reader and have a passion for shining a light on authors and stories of color and plan to do a lot more in that area. Also, lots of yoga, traveling and time with family!