The Invisible Impact of Women in Cooperatives


Women in the U.S. are not underrepresented in leadership positions because of lack of qualifications (women out-earn men in undergraduate and graduate degrees) or work experience (women represent 51+ percent of workforce participation). However, women represent at best 18 percent of leadership positions and 2-5 percent of board positions across all sectors. These numbers are even more disappointing when considering women of color. Although there is a pipeline of educated and experienced women in the U.S. workforce, something is limiting their ability to ascend to top leadership. Organizations have been making efforts to incorporate more women into leadership for decades. From the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to flextime and family leave policies, to recent conversations about mentoring and sponsoring women, there have been excessive conversations (though limited actions) about advancing women into leadership. In 2021, cooperative representation of women in both executive suites and board rooms is not representative of current demographics of women in the cooperative workforce. Solutions tend to focus on tackling one impediment at a time, rather than dismantling the collective of impediments to advance equity and access to leadership and board positions. This session will explore how the value of women leaders has been made invisible in the cooperative industry, and the collection of solutions that need to be activated (not just discussed) to create a culture and operations that value women cooperators in leadership and board positions.

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