Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Female leadership in selected co-operatives in British Columbia

Co-operatives represent themselves as democratic organisations and have policies of equity and equal opportunity. However reports show that women hold 30% of lowly paid junior management positions in English-speaking Canadian co-operatives and their salaries as a percentage of men’s are 77%. In October 1998 a conference called “Women Work in Co-ops” was organized by WomenFutures and co-sponsored by OXFAM-Canada and Devco. The participants revealed that women make an enormous contribution to community economic development but are often invisible actors. Ethel Côté of the Conseil de la Coopération claimed, “the co-op sector needs to recognize the issues that hinder women’s participation and initiate policies that will invite and support women to take leadership roles.” Barriers preventing women from achieving leadership roles need to be highlighted. Women may have different styles of leadership and perspectives on power that could improve co-operative governance. The question of mainstreaming or questioning the numbers of women in decision-making positions is not sufficient. “Thatcherstyle” leadership is not necessarily the best style for co-operatives nor would that style attract women. Is it true that women can more easily adopt the new vision of leadership as a horizontal, consensus based process that aims to create shared visions through egalitarian and just ways of interacting. This type of leadership also involves acceptance of difference and the importance of the process. The leadership roles played by existing leaders should be highlighted, supported and disseminated. Supportive policies initiated by female leaders can be shared widely among women who may not have opportunities to come together to share common concerns or learn from the few available role models. Information about the ‘politics’ of elected office and the actions female leaders have taken to cope with encountered difficulties for those contemplating electoral office; and so reduce their likelihood of failure. This is important since new female leaders will need to gain acceptance from a new peer group who are likely to be men. These men may not have had previous experience with female peers.