International Women’s Day – How do co-ops perform as women employers?

20 women in co-operatives took part in our survey, to highlight issues faced by female employees and members

To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, Co-op News asked women co-operators to share their experiences in the movement. Themed Press For Progress, the day is a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

In total 20 women in co-operatives took part in our survey, which sought to highlight some of the issues faced by female employees and members. Their experience in the sector ranged from two to over 50 years. We received answers from shop floor staff, directors, regular members, employees of co-op organisations, managers and advisers. They come from various sectors, including consumer, worker and community co-ops and regional organisations.

Fourteen respondents said they felt supported in their roles with two saying they sometimes felt undermined and four admitting they did not feel supported at all. Over 65% said they believed co-ops could do more to support gender equality, suggesting better communication around it, improving gender pay gaps, allocating more resources to this task, making workplaces family friendly and practising more gender equality at board level.

When asked what were their positive and negative experiences, women co-operators had different perspectives. Featured below are some of the answers received.

What positive and negative experiences have you had in your co-op or organisation?

“Encouragement for women to fulfil their career ambitions, and forward thinking with how to make that happen.”

“Positives are flexibility, working in various departments and an equal say. Negatives are lack of HR within our co-op when issues arise.”

“It was very male-dominated back in the 1980s and it was hard to break through (but I did!). Positive – in 2018 our board is gender equal.”

“As an employee who worked at the age of 17, it was very different then. The women worked the tills and put stock on shelves – the highest you would amount to was head cashier. I think now we can achieve anything. It did go backwards when we [the Co-op Group] took over Somerfield and I personally witnessed their attitude to women management. I had comments about it being no job for a woman. It’s nice to see it’s reverting back to a fair place to work.”

“Joining a regional organisation as a female co-operator under 30 is not a fun experience. You get mansplained by people who consider themselves to have the most radical and advanced views in the co-operative movement. It is hard to establish relationships of solidarity with other women, as they cease to hang out in higher lever organisations. I had my work claimed to be done by men who work with me, and men assuming work I do is done by their mates. I didn’t enjoy this outside co-op movement, but it also happens here, and there is lack of consciousness and respect. Men hanging out on the board sometimes dump their problems on me treating me as their personal secretary, while there is nothing I can do as another volunteer who has a business to run. I have learned a lot, but it was not positive learning. In the end unequal treatment tires out anyone.”

“Mostly positive… A lot of support and mentorship over the years in the various capacities that I have had. A very flexible work environment that has allowed me to have a healthy work life balance, while also being a single parent and prioritise the needs of my family”.

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