Press release

Women on boards of co-operative retailers double those of FTSE companies

  • Nearly twice as many women are directors of co-operative retailers as FTSE 100 and 250 companies
  • Half of co-operative retailers’ boards have 50% or more female directors, whereas almost no FTSE companies have over 50%

New figures, published for International Women's Day on 8 March, show that co-operative retailers are leading the way for women on boards. They find that 40.7% of board members of co-operative retail businesses are women, whereas only 19.6% of the FTSE 250 and 26% of the FTSE 100 are female.

The figures also show that nearly half the large co-operative retailers have at least 50% of their directorships occupied by women, with only 2% of the FTSE listed companies having that proportion of females on their boards.

In the context of growing calls for gender equality around leadership positions in British business - and evidence that women on boards results in higher performance - the new figures are a strong indication that co-operatives are leading the way.

Helen Barber, Secretary and Head of Advice at Co-operatives UK, which has published the new figures, said: "Co-operative retailers have been pioneers of some of the flagship changes in business, from limiting working hours for employees to introducing Fairtrade. On gender equality they are proving leaders too, with double the number of women on their boards as other large businesses.

“There is always more to do to ensure that gender equality is embedded across the co-operative sector. But as businesses across the economy are being pushed to increase the number of women on their board, for co-operatives, as organisations run by and for their members, this diversity seems to come more naturally."

  FTSE 100 FTSE 250 Co-operative retailers

Female held directorships




Companies with at least one woman on the board 100% 94% 93%
Companies where directors are at least 25% women 55% 32.8% 80%
Companies where directors are at least 50% women 2% 1.2% 46.7%









Sources: FTSE data from Women on Board Davies Review, October 2015, The Female FTSE Board Report published by Cranfield University; co-operative data from Co-operatives UK Performance Monitor.

A good example of a retail co-operative performing well on board diversity is Central England Co-operative, one of the largest independent retailers in the UK. It has more than 400 trading outlets, nearly 9,000 staff and turns over close to £1 billion a year. Its 14-strong Board of Directors is elected by its customer members and 50% of the directors are women, including the President, Maria Lee, who chairs the business.

East of England Co-operative, based in Ipswich, is a large regional retailer with 200 outlets and 4,700 staff. It’s Board of Directors has overseen a significant shift in direction of the business over recent years, with the introduction of a new brand and local approach to sourcing and retailing. Like Central England Co-operative, 50% of the directors of the Board are women, including the President, Sally Chicken.