CEO Message – July 2022

How Women Play a Vital Role at Cooperatives

Brandon Wittman headshotAfter doing a little research, I learned that Women’s Equality Day occurs in August. This celebration is centered around the right for all women to vote; something that is commonplace to us all in the U.S., but historically speaking, has been a recent development in many areas of the world. Women’s Equality Day inspired me to look into the roles that women have played in cooperatives around the world. Interestingly, even though women were not allowed to vote in the United States and the United Kingdom until the early 1900’s, women were granted equal voting rights in the first modern-era cooperative, which was called The Rochdale Pioneers Equitable Society. This co-op was established in 1844 in Rochdale, England. The founders all agreed that women should have equal voting rights. How amazing that treating women equally and fairly has been baked into our cooperative DNA right from the very start. Today, the cooperative business model continues to champion women’s equality across the globe.

A worldwide study conducted by the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives in 2015 showed that cooperatives have had an increasingly positive impact on women and their inclusion in the labor force and have also enhanced women’s ability to achieve positions of authority both within and outside the co-op environment. At YVEC, in a business that traditionally employs male linemen, we currently have 15 women employees. Additionally, 4 of the 7 Executive Staff Members are female, and all are extremely talented and deserving members of the YVEC team. (19311000)

In developing countries – where women have long suffered due to biased cultural norms, government policy and a simple lack of opportunities – the role cooperatives play in the lives of women, as well as the role women play in cooperatives, is now more meaningful than ever. In Paraguay, a South American country bordered by Brazil and Argentina, gender equality has transformed the Manduvira Sugarcane Cooperative. The sugar co-op has seen a dramatic increase in the participation of female members and leaders. Manduvira is a multi-service co-op with two types of operations: organic sugar production and savings & credit. In both of its operations, Manduvira has seen a significant increase in their success as women’s participation grows. According to several co-op leaders at Manduvira, female members are generally more apt to apply what they learn in trainings and to adopt new farming techniques compared to their male counterparts. Because women are more likely to adopt the new technologies and the co-op has seen a higher percentage of women in leadership roles, the co-op has become much stronger and more stable.

Manduvira is just an example of one cooperative. In South Africa, women make up 60% of co-op members from nearly all sectors. In Japan, women make up 95% of co-op members in consumer cooperatives and hold key governance positions. Globally, women are increasingly joining savings and credit cooperatives, giving them greater access to financial services.

At Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative, we were one of the first electric cooperatives in Montana to have a female trustee on our Board of Directors. Marlene Amen served on YVEC’s Board for 24 years until the time of her passing in 2017. Treating everyone equally and ensuring folks have fair opportunities is the cooperative way of doing business.

Brandon J. Wittman
Chief Executive Officer and General Manager