Cooperatives movement suits women and crisis

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This article is part of our special report SME’s Access to Finance.

SPECIAL REPORT / Working in cooperatives is better for women’s chances of promotion, work- life balance, professional development and pay, according to research unveiled yesterday (16 October) in Brussels.

The findings come on the heels of a report published in the summer (26 June), which claimed that cooperatives also offer the most resilient form of organisational structure in the face of the economic crisis stifling Europe.

Representatives from Italian, French and Spanish cooperatives – usually classed as SMEs because they employ fewer workers than large companies – presented survey findings to a seminar held in conjunction with European SME week, which has taken female employment as one of its themes this year.

Fewer differences between pay levels across genders

Giving results from research conducted by the French cooperative organisation, CG Scop, Catherine Friedrich said that three-quarters of respondents to the survey had indicated that they were content with their promotion opportunities within cooperatives.

She said that the findings were especially significant because cooperatives are generally too small to fall under French rules requiring larger companies to ensure that women receive equal promotional treatment.

Almost the same number (72% of respondents) said that there was no difference between pay levels for men and women within their workplaces.

“Although 20% recorded that there were differences on the payscale, the result must be put in the context of the French average, in which men receive salaries 9% higher than women for equivalent labour across the board,” Friedrich said.

France, Italy and Spain: similar results

The French survey results were broadly similar to findings from Spain and Italy, and in all three cases the overwhelming majority of women working within cooperatives were satisfied with work-life balance, and content with their promotional chances and access to professional development schemes.

They were also more highly educated than their counterparts in the non-cooperative sector, and – with an average of two children – had larger families than average in those countries.

“We have seen an increase in women employed by cooperatives during both 2011 and 2012. They are a good way of creating jobs in good times and also in bad,” said Paloma Arroyo, director of the Spanish Confederation of Workers Cooperatives COCETA.

Cooperatives in Spain have chosen to use common resources to ‘rest’ employees not required in the crisis, and are thus able to keep them on the payroll, in the expectation that labour requirements will increase once the crisis abates.

Cooperatives more resilient in the financial crisis

Earlier this year (26 June), the European Confederation of Workers’ Cooperatives, Social Cooperatives and Social and Participative Enterprises (CECOP) published a report suggesting cooperatives proved more durable than ordinary companies in the face of the financial crisis.

The report – called: “The resilience of the cooperative model” – found that worker-members, as co-owners of their businesses, put strategies in place for the short and longer term, giving priority to safeguarding jobs and innovation.

Paloma Arroyo, director of the Spanish Confederation of Workers Cooperatives COCETA, said that the results of the French, Spanish and Italian surveys are being formulated into a report to be published shortly, giving a comprehensive overview of the integration of women into the labour forces in those countries.

“The average  profile of women working in cooperatives is that of a 40-year-old with two children and a university degree. They often work for social cooperatives – involved in healthcare, education, tourism and so on – which have a mediating role and they can enjoy a better work/life balance, similar pay and education opportunities as their male counterparts,” said Paloma Arroyo, director of the Spanish Confederation of Workers Cooperatives (COCETA).

“They enable women to be part of the management structure, and women are overwhelmingly more contented working within these cooperatives than they are in other enterprises. There is a strong social dialogue which takes place outside of the structure of workers’ unions, and is therefore very independent,” added Arroyo.

“It is noticed that the resilience of worker and social cooperatives to the crisis is more pronounced in the countries which operate a strong implementation of these types of cooperatives,” according to “The resilience of the cooperative model”, a report published earlier this year by The European Confederation of Workers’ Cooperatives, Social Cooperatives and Social and Participative Enterprises (CECOP).

“Even when cooperatives are present in highly competitive markets they succeed because they are oriented toward the long term objectives and can rely on their own resources,” said Benoît Hamon, the French deputy minister for the social and solidarity economy, in a a speech (26 June) to the European Parliament’s Social Economy Intergroup.

Europe's 23 million SMEs are the backbone of the economy, representing 99% of businesses and accounting for 58% of total turnover in the EU. Their development and growth is essential for enhancing competitiveness and strengthening Europe's attractiveness as a place for investment and production.

European SME Week (15-21 October) is a forum for businesses, policymakers and investors to discuss ideas for promoting the sector.

With more than 1,500 events running across 37 countries and a summit in Brussels on 17 October, European SME Week is organised by the EU Directorate for Enterprise and Industry, as a campaign to promote entrepreneurship and inform entrepreneurs about support available for them at European, national, regional and local level.

  • 15-21 Oct.: European SME Week


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