Agricultural Cooperatives Lag in Diversity

Phil Kenkel

Bill Fitzwater Cooperative Chair

Oklahoma State University

Women make up around 19% of the board members at S&P 500 corporations, with around 2 women directors on each board.  In 2014 nearly 24% of new directors at S&P 500 firms were women.  Data on board composition in cooperatives is limited.  The best source I have found is a 2014 study by the Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives which examined board composition in 12 cooperative sectors.  Women made up just over 3% of board members in agricultural cooperatives the lowest representation of any cooperative sector.  Seven percent of the directors at Farm Credit cooperatives were female while women accounted for 9% of the directors at Rural Electric Cooperatives.  Both of those cooperative sectors operate in rural American beside agricultural cooperatives.  Women account for almost a third of the board members at credit union cooperatives while grocery cooperatives have a higher representation at almost 47%.  Arts and Craft cooperative had the highest female representation at 71%,

Cooperatives trail investor owned firms in terms of gender diversity in the board room and agricultural cooperative are clearly behind all other cooperative sectors.  As I have discussed in previous newsletters, there are three potential benefits to agricultural cooperatives from increasing diversity in their board rooms: increasing the talent pool, improving strategic management and increasing credibility in relating to the membership.

In my next newsletter I discuss some possible barriers to board diversity.