CO-OPERATIVES are in a position to remove the "glass ceiling" that stops many women from achieving their full potential in the workplace.
Congress President and Deputy Minister for Women and Equality Meg Munn told a Congress seminar that many women, especially in part time employment, are working below their skill level and that the co-operative business model may be the key to change that.
Ms Munn, Labour/Co-op MP for Sheffield Heeley, said: "There's no doubt in my mind that the co-operative business model offers a lot to women. Women will continue to develop their place in society and the business world is no different."
Ms Munn's aim is to raise awareness of "what women can do, and what women are not yet doing". She launched a leaflet at the meeting, published by Co-operatives UK and the Department of Trade and Industry, highlighting how co-ops can encourage women to become more entrepreneurial.
Around 40 per cent of women in part time and 14 per cent in full time employment are currently working below their skill level, said Ms Munn, and around three in ten women would like more opportunities for training and development.
Jenny Smith, of Co-op Solutions, told the meeting that many women lack in confidence when launching a new business and require support. She said: "Women want assistance away from the private sector, and an appreciation of different success factors."
Ms Munn added: "More women than men start up new businesses because of unemployment."
Many women who are carers or children have the opportunity to break into social enterprise. A case study of Minster Housing Co-op, in London, shows a co-op business can be launched close to home, literally.
Paula Farrow, Minster Chair, spoke at the seminar of how it has been empowering to be part of a co-op. She said: "Why let someone else run your life?"
Living in a co-op has provided the residents of Minster with a strong community feeling where they feel safe and can develop their skills, and gain experience running a business.
Ms Farrow said that most of Minster co-op's members are women and single mothers, and being part of a co-op has helped raise their self-esteems, and it "gives them a platform to express themselves so that they can speak up about issues that affect their lives".