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News from the farm

Redressing the gender balance

This month we were visited by Timothy Njakasi, an old friend from Uganda. After reading our co-owners’ annual report, he accosted me: “Guy, I must ask you; where are the women in power? All your trustees, 80 per cent of the Co-owner Council, and five out of seven directors are men.”

This observation had not escaped me; indeed, it has been a growing frustration that despite our efforts, we have made little progress in redressing the gender balance. Very few women stood for the Co-owner Council, there remains a reluctance for women to step up to supervisory roles, and the ‘best’ candidates for senior positions are too often male.  

So how did Timothy get to be such an expert? The first time I visited his farm east of Kampala, there wasn’t much gender equality to be seen; the women did almost all the work, while the men did most of the talking and drinking.

That was 20 years ago; since then, Timothy has worked with the charity Send a Cow, enabling disadvantaged families to farm their way out of poverty. Addressing ‘gender issues’ in the families precedes any agricultural training; indeed, it would not be an overstatement to say that development cannot happen without it.

If I hadn’t seen for myself the men and women both embracing a fairer and more productive division of tasks, I would not believe that such rapid cultural change was possible.

On the journey to employee ownership, we invested hugely in developing a more inclusive, power-sharing culture. We must apply the same stubborn persistence to empowering women.

In the past, we haven’t been sympathetic enough; now, we are introducing flexible working wherever we can, and shifts with reliable finish times elsewhere – critical for those with child-care or other responsibilities. Our gender pay gap is much better than average, but still needs work, so we have set up a remuneration committee (including three members of the Co-owner Council). 

But the most important thing we can do is to counter unconscious bias by having more women in power. Our new board chair is a woman, and for our other two recent director vacancies we searched hard, if unsuccessfully, for women.

Equality of opportunity is an asset as much as a right; diversity brings innovation, flexibility and joy. Our co-owners will only truly thrive when conditions, job descriptions, selection, and the definitions of success are dictated as much by women as men. If Timothy can do it in a remote Ugandan village, we can do it at Riverford.



1 Year 5 Months

This is - shall we say - 85% positive. At least it heads in the right direction. You're certainly right, here: "If Timothy can do it in a remote Ugandan village, we can do it at Riverford." However, where did Riverford look for women for the aforesaid director vacancies? What were the qualifications?

Perchance, Riverford might have sent out the information that you were looking to all those of us - naturally,(including women - presently buying your food? Certainly, over at least two years of buying from Riverford, I have certainly only seen one instance of you looking among your customers for either practical or intellectual input.

Surely the prime reason the world is in such a mess is because women and symbolically, The Earth, are not given the opportunity to act in ways that might turn around prevailing attitudes?

I can think of women, even in the small coastal town I live in, who could provide practical input - from many different sides of the paradigm - to Riverford.

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1 Year 4 Months

I wholeheartedly endorse your comments, Vidubo. It was a woman who first recommended Riverford to me and I expect the company counts many bright, resourceful and creative women among its customers. I wonder what percentage of Riverford's customers are women and how this compares to the number of women holding senior positions, not just the Council members?

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Comments Editor

1 Year 4 Months

Thankyou so much for sharing your thoughts and suggestions.There's been such a great response to the article - especially on Riverford's facebook page - all of the ideas are being taken on board and shared at the farm to help progress in redressing the gender balance.

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Guy Singh-Watson

Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 55,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.

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