The technology and credit union industries are always changing, always evolving and as Vice President of Marketing at First Tech Federal Credit Union, the ninth largest credit union in the United States, Chylon Pappas has not only adapted to these industries but excelled in them. She has been a member there for nearly 20 years, and even with her extensive experience and various leadership roles, Chylon continues to ask hard questions and take on new challenges. Her story is not just one of hard work and perseverance, but also of building a community to lean on and learn from in order to build a successful professional career.
People Before Profit
Now within First Tech Federal Credit Union, Chylon is responsible for anything and everything marketing: digital components, product marketing, social aspects, and creative decisions. Her role within the organization has changed shape since she started in the 2000s, and she describes when she first started, they had $700-800 million in assets and 250 employees, and now they have $16.2 billion in assets and 1600 employees. "Now when I start to look back on my time at First Tech, I see my fingerprints on everything."
Yet, Chylon had to go through her own fair share of trials and tribulations to be where she is now. Before her time at First Tech Federal Credit Union (First Tech) she was in school and working part-time at another credit union. As a fellow woman in the tech and credit union industry, her CEO at the time moved her up and through all aspects of the organizations: IT, communications, finance, and ultimately marketing. Even 20 years ago she had told Chylon: "There aren't a lot of people in the credit union industry that look like you, and we need more people who look like you." When her path led her to First Tech, another major influence on her life was a woman named Brooke Van Vleet who "gave her a shot" and transformed her role from an individual contributor to a director, and Chylon hasn't looked back since.
Since then, Chylon continues to pursue her passion in marketing by creating passionate teams that enjoy their work, shaping the company brand, and working on projects that are new and innovative. "It is something to be excited about and keeps me feeling young." Now First Tech has over 600,000 members and the credit union mantra, "people before profit", has only become more and more pertinent in a continually advancing tech industry. "We don't have stakeholders or shareholders- everything we build about our product and how our services are shaped is all for our members."
Defining Meaningful Change as a Woman
Entering into the tech and credit union industry, Chylon knew she was entering a work environment in which she was severely underrepresented as a woman of color, especially at the leadership level. Recognizing and coming to terms with this meant having to navigate challenges many others did not have to such as, unconscious gender and racial biases and struggling to have her voice heard. Luckily Chylon does not describe herself as a quiet person, "I am willing to fight the battles for others, and to call out things that are not acceptable."
Chylon is currently a member of the executive steering committee for the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Council, where she is initializing employee resource groups to diversify First Tech throughout the entirety of the organization. Her partner, Monique Little, Chief People and Administrative Officer, has already established "returnship" programs within First Tech to return women and mothers to work in leadership positions. "Do what is right and continue to do what is right, and that is how we can bring meaningful change to organizations across the country."
As a leader, Chylon believes in doing what is right and establishing balance. Gender diversity in the workplace allows for the circulation of different ideas, and new ways of thinking, and allows young women entering the workforce to see that there is a career that exists on the pathway to success in these major industries. Her advice to these young women is: "Be curious, learn something new, and don't be afraid to try new things even if you fail. Find your people that support, challenge, and embrace you."
The Messy Road Not Taken
Outside of work, Chylon is the board chair for a non-for-profit called With Love that supports foster kids ages 0-6 by providing resources and services. One of the pillars of First Tech is being a good community partner, so not only does Chylon get to live out First Tech's values outside of work, but she also gets to give back to the community she lives in.
Besides her passion projects for With Love, she also ensures she makes time for her husband, son and family in between her busy work schedule. Chylon takes immense pride in her family and her career, as a part of her will always be the 16-year-old who lived alone and worked to put herself through school. "If I looked back at that girl who existed back then, I don't think she knew that this was possible, that she even knew this path was available, and it was. You work and you grind, and it will add up and make a big difference.That's what this is about."
Since then, Chylon has earned everything she has worked for: a successful life and a community both in and out of her work to be proud of. She now strives to progress First Tech by ensuring more women and people of color are entering leadership roles, "We need to lock arms and leave our industries better than when we found them." Chylon's determined spirit and care for the people in her life have shaped her into the person she is today and has allowed her to walk confidently along her career path. "Your path does not have to be organized, it can be messy too."
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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