Irish co-op apex launches charter to promote gender equality across the sector

There is chronic inequality when it comes to female representation and influence on co-op boards. It has long gone past the time for this to change’

The Irish Co-operative Organisation (ICOS) has launched a Gender Equality Charter to promote, facilitate and develop the participation of women in Irish co-operatives and their boards.

ICOS hopes member co-operatives will be able to use the charter as a guide to address the lack representation of women on the boards of co-operatives and the gender and diversity imbalance across agriculture in general.

The charter was launched on 8 March, International Women’s Day, by ICOS president James O’Donnell, on his farm at Golden, Co. Tipperary. He was joined by Vanessa Kiely-O’Connor, a board member of Bandon Co-operative and Ann Kinane-Creamer, a board member of Tipperary Co-operative.

“ICOS has a responsibility to show leadership to its sector and to society in general,” said O’Donnell, “and takes very seriously its responsibility to encourage and promote diversity, and particularly gender diversity, in co-op structures.”

O’Donnell added that co-operatives in the ICOS affiliate network represent over 175,000 individual members supporting 11,000 jobs across Ireland.

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“We recognise there is chronic inequality when it comes to female representation and influence on co-op boards,“ he said. “It has long gone past the time for this to change. From this moment on, the role of women on co-operative boards will change for the better.

“This is not just an Irish problem. For whatever reason, the under-representation of women on co-op boards is an issue across Europe. We want to show leadership in changing this damning statistic by supporting our members in using all methods possible to encourage, support and sustain female participation, and input and decision making at board level. This is why we have carefully put together a dedicated charter to drive the process.”

The minister for agriculture, food and the marine, Charlie McConalogue, has announced that he will refuse the nomination of male candidates to state boards if organisations do not show a genuine commitment to prioritising the nomination of women. His aim is to increase the representation of male and female board members to a minimum of 40%.

“ICOS supports the minister’s initiative,” said O’Donnell.

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Through the charter, ICOS commits to addressing the lack of women in co-operative leadership roles through a series of measures, including identifying, supporting and promoting female candidates, who can be available for election or selection to all leadership roles in the sector; conducting research analysis to identify issues relating to women’s involvement in co-operatives and participation in representative structures; ensuring every ICOS member co-operative sets a target for female representation on their board; supporting member co-operatives to amend their rules and policies to facilitate and provide for attracting more female members to lower representative tiers; and promoting the use of gender neutral and inclusive language in rule books, internal and external communication, documents, advertising and slogans.

“Our charter is crystal clear in this objective and we are confident that with the full support of our members, we can achieve this. Our co-ops are progressive, modern, sustainable organisations, producing food and other goods to the highest sustainability standards, while supporting local communities, economies, and jobs.

“We are very conscious that society, and our customers, expect us to reflect all our shared and progressive values. In 2023, there is no place for inequality in any sector of society and this includes agriculture and the progressive co-operative movement,” said O’Donnell.