Kieran Andrew Khan
Acting assistant superintendent Gale Bernadette Charles is the first woman to serve as president of the TT Police Credit Union (TTPCU) in the organisation’s 62-year history.
The board elected Charles, an active member for 25 years, at their first meeting after the credit union's annual general meeting on April 21. She has served in several capacities, including secretary to the board and chairman of the education committee.
As president, Charles, who turns 55 next week, has set her sights on placing the institution at the top of the list in the public’s mind for a financial partner and a go-to for their membership’s needs.
Charles is a career police officer, having been inspired in childhood by the women in the service who would visit Bethlehem Girls’ RC Primary School, which she attended, and speak to students.
“I love the police service, I just knew I always wanted to be there,” she recalled. “I first applied five years prior to being accepted. When I did not hear back, I re-applied, determined to serve.”
After joining the credit union some time after, she would be inspired to pursue her MBA, which she did, in an effort to learn more about financial services and improve her own life – inspiration she garnered while being a member.
Retired assistant police commissioner Kathleen Weekes, a TTPCU member, encouraged Charles to serve and she would do just that on the education committee which oversaw a range of programmes including financial literacy for members alongside campaigns against bullying in schools and scholarship programmes from SEA to tertiary level.
A president’s plans
“Above all, I am of the opinion that our membership should be rich,” she declared. “They and their children ought to be rich – in all areas of their lives. And we can help them get there with our products, services and training.”
The TTPCU, which recently released a mobile app for members, is keen to keep at the forefront.
“I want our IT platform to grow – to be able to communicate with our members at the drop of a hat. I want everyone to know our name; and in a positive way,” Charles said.
Growth is essential for the TTPCU's future, she added, including expanding its 14,500 membership-strong base.
The TTPCU has an open bond membership (available to people who are not police officers, not employed in the service, and are not related to any officer), offering services to those looking to make that wise investment decision, not only financially, but as Charles stated, also in themselves.
“We have to grow and we will be encouraging membership to the general public, increasing our loan portfolio, and I have to say, our loan products are excellent," Charles said.
"If an organisation is not growing, then to me, it is dying; and we intend to keep growing. We have a unique area which is our consumer department and we have excellent staff members who are subject matter experts in their field. We are looking at being number one and we will get there,” she said with conviction.
Her plans include projects of her own, which she referred to as "wild cards", but at all points the president was keen to stress that it will all be done through a process of consultation. “I am looking at a different way of doing business but it’s not about me. I will draw on the strength of my board of directors – after all where there is collective responsibility there should also be a responsibility to consult that collective,” she advised. Through good governance and practice, the TTPCU president intends to hold true to their core principle of people helping people.
No glass ceiling
“The only barriers that hold you back,” Charles recognised, “are the ones you make for yourself. I never saw the glass ceiling that people say I have shattered. I never saw myself as just a female in any of my roles. I saw myself as a police officer and a board member. Maybe the feminists may not be happy to hear me say that,” she joked, “but I am happy that as a female it offers me some strategic advantages as a leader. I am able to nurture and advise in a different leadership style without it appearing odd and having me appear ‘soft’.
Charles sees President Paula-Mae Weekes, TT's first woman Head of State, as the perfect example of an empowered leader.
"Our current President is the ultimate professional in her role who knows this well – she is strong and can stand her ground while also being very giving. I can admire that. As a woman you are particularly empowered to lead in a different way – from the front or from the rear, but I don’t think that there should be any barrier in women’s minds to success, simply because you are a woman.”
Apart from her professional commitments, Charles is the proud mother of two.
“I have a very handsome son who's been working for the past few years, and a studious daughter at St Joseph’s Convent who is also a talented singer with Positive Movement Orchestra. I’m very proud of my children – they made me realise who I am faster than anything else. When you love your children, you have to put yourself aside to help them realise their own lives, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean that you spoil your them,” she advised.
Charles is also an active member of Victoria Faith Ministries, Arima where she serves as elder in charge of events and, more recently, has become an aquaponics enthusiast having grown her first crop of lettuce and patchoi at home after starting late last year.
“I offered that harvest to my church, my family members and my neighbours,” she said. “I think it is important to be sustainable, even in an area like this. I do this in small space in my own backyard, so it’s something we can all do.”
Active in all spheres of her life – from police officer, president of a leading financial institution to mother, agro-enthusiast and church member – Charles stressed the need for mutually-assured growth through self-development and service.
She sees the need to encourage and foster small business and entrepreneurship through a change in mindset and through financial tools and training, and believes the TTPCU is that springboard for its members’ personal and financial development through tailored lending services.
“That’s it you know. That’s what it’s all about. You must serve in whatever way your hands find to do.”