A recently released report from the Rural Power Project shows undemocratic election procedures resulting in disproportionate board representation in electrical cooperatives in southern states.
The report highlights disproportionate representation — 95.3 percent of electric cooperative board members are white, while only 69.2 percent of customers are white and 90.3 percent of the board representation is male, but only 48.9 percent of customers are male.
African-Americans and Hispanics also lack representation on the board — 4.4 percent of the board members are-African American, while only .3 percent of board members are Hispanic.
“People who represent cooperative members should be as diverse as the membership to be more democratic,” said Virginia Organizing Chairperson Ladelle McWhorter. “This report shows that is not the case in co-ops in southern states.”
The Northern Virginia cooperative serves six counties in Virginia and has 15,500 members. Seven of the nine elected board members are men and all of the board members are white.
The Central cooperative in Virginia serves 35,482 members in 14 counties. There are 10 governing positions where men hold eight seats and women have two seats. Nine of the board members are white and one is black.
“Whenever we have an opportunity to diversify governing bodies, we should do so,” said McWhorter. “Diversity brings new perspectives and ideas for better governance. A basic principle of democratic leadership is that people are represented by those like them. It is hard for a middle class white male co-op leader to understand the situation of a lower-income Black woman co-op member. How can we have democratic leadership when the representatives are not very representative of the people they serve?”
Virginia Organizing was founded in 1995 on principles of anti-racism and intentional diversity in leadership to better organize for social change and empower those who are directly affected to take action.
“Virginia Organizing calls on the cooperatives to diversify to be more representative of those it serves,” said McWhorter.