October 30, 2017
Outstanding Women in Business

Duffy created a roadmap for women in finance

Edd Cote
Karen Duffy, president and CEO, Worcester Credit Union.

A chief executive's corner office has so long been dominated by men, it isn't always a place where a woman can feel she belongs.

Karen E. Duffy didn't have female CEOs to look up to in banking. But she had male mentors and two other inspirations: her mother and grandmother

"I always had a feeling I could do whatever I wanted," said Duffy, who for 23 years has been the CEO at Worcester Credit Union.

Duffy has defied several odds along the way. She finished her business degree only after becoming a young mother and juggling a day job and night classes. It was hard work, she said, but worth it for someone who always found satisfaction in helping people making smart financial decisions.

Duffy has done it over a three-decade career, which started as a teller and progressed through just about every branch position.

The credit union has remained small while taking on initiatives such as a personal-finance program for long-term unemployed workers. Its first branch in the Burncoat neighborhood was joined by a second location in Worcester Technical High School in 2006.

Duffy, 60, pays back the mentorship she got from others through service in area organizations. She has been a chair of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau and the Worcester Community Housing Resources, a corporator of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, and treasurer of the Worcester Educational Development Foundation. She has served as the head of several credit union associations.

"I've always looked to take a leadership position in the roles I've been in," she said.

Timothy McGourthy got to know Duffy in 2014 when he became the Worcester Regional Research Bureau's executive director.

"She was on top of the transition, and she really worked to make sure it was a seamless and comfortable flow," he said.

McGourthy described Duffy as open-minded and thoughtful when considering a decision.

"I work with people who work with her in different capacities – all have incredibly high respect for what she's done at that organization," he said. "Everywhere I go, people sing her praises."

Duffy wanted to be an example for her daughters and for younger women at Worcester Credit Union, who may not have a roadmap for becoming a leader.

The guidance she received, Duffy said, "influenced me to know that women after me could say, she rose through the ranks and did that."

Duffy is most passionate about her four grandchildren, but she lights up when talking about rowing. For a decade, she's rowed three or four early mornings a week at the Quinsigamond Rowing Club for a team competing in the Head of the Charles Regatta.

Duffy, of course, has served as the rowing club's president and treasurer.

"We work hard, and we have a lot of fun," said Duffy.

Read more about this year's Outstanding Women in Business:

Read about this year's judges

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