As International Women’s Day approaches, we’ve spoken to a number of inspirational women who are leading by example at some prominent co-operatives …
SHELAGH YOUNG is the Chair of The Phone Co-op.
What does International Women’s day mean to you?
I’d like it to say it feels like a celebration, but this date reminds us that women right around the world are still struggling to achieve recognition and to get a fair deal in life. This year I do feel optimistic, and that is down to the number of young women who are coming together and putting feminism back on the political agenda.
They are using social media in really smart ways to make change happen. My generation was often criticised for being too focused on a narrow, middle class, Anglocentric version of women’s rights. That has changed a lot.
What is your experience as a woman in a co-operative-focused organisation?
Better now than it was 20 years ago! There have been times – not at The Phone Co-op I should say – when talking about under-representation of women at senior management or board level didn’t feel like a conversation most people wanted to have. Today, diversity is a live issue and there is much greater recognition of the fact that everybody’s well-being is better served by having good polices and practices. But that doesn’t mean the co-op movement can rest on its laurels. We need to attract more women to stand for election at board level, but I know that far too many women underestimate the value they can bring.
Democracy doesn’t really work unless elections are contested by a good mix of candidates.
What can be done to improve equality within the movement?
I’m indebted to the recently deceased cultural theorist Stuart Hall for what little grip I have on what it takes to change the circumstances in which we live.
Improving equality in co-operatives is no different from doing it anywhere else – to succeed, you have to understand how power works and be brave enough to challenge the status quo. For example, it’s no good merely lamenting the lack of diversity in a candidate list. A little bit of research can help uncover how that came about and put us on the road to doing things differently.
Self-awareness and a willingness to share responsibility for addressing inequality is also vital. Despite the co-op movement’s genuine commitment to equality and fairness, we are only human and change does not come easily. We have to keep working at it.
Or return to the International Women’s Day 2014 collection