Additional reporting by Maeve Keane

Irish cooperatives have got to address serious imbalances in gender and age profile on boards, with approximately just 10 female directors out 500 people on boards of Ireland’s largest co-ops, according to president of the Irish Cooperative Organisation Society (ICOS), Jerry Long.

Speaking last Wednesday, July 24, at the launch of the LeadFarm international young farmer training programme, the president highlighted some key concerns with the Irish – and European – co-op board compositions with some eye-opening statistics.

There are about 10 million farmers or farm managers across Europe – in that population about a third of them are over 65.

“The most common age group is actually 65 and over; and almost 60% are 55 and over – so the numbers are wrong in terms of farming. And in terms of the gender gap it’s even worse.

“Unfortunately, if you look for Ireland, if you squint very closely you’ll see us down almost at the bottom of the pile with about 5% women running, owing or managing farms. So in Ireland we are not in a good position at all; and we need to somehow address that.

“On our boards – and this is to our eternal shame really – of our 30 largest cooperatives on the dairy and livestock side, if we look at a pool of about 500 directors, the average age is about 60; great, they’re very experienced people and great leaders.

There’s only about 10 women – out of a pool of 500 people. That’s disgraceful.

Continuing, Long highlighted that for co-ops with women involved on the board, it’s a “culture change”, adding that the gender mix improves efficiency at meetings and has a “transformative” effect.

“We have a problem – we need to attract more younger members and women; we need to get them involved in the structure and we need to make them believe in the cooperative principles.

“We need a new way of communicating,” Long said.