I was recently contacted by a journalist to get my reaction to why the City of St. John's elected 11 males and Zero females to City Council. Here's the dialogue from the communication exchange:
Kathy Dunderdale in 2009 announced a series of lunch and learn sessions around the province to encourage women to run in 2009 municipal election. It wasn't done this year. Do you think it would have helped? Do you think there should be a committee of some sort put together to help women learn the ropes, fund-raise and that sort of thing to get them prepared for elections? Everyone is saying we need to encourage more women to run, to get involved, five ran in St. John's out of 30 candidates, while its not ideal, five is better than zero, but none got elected. What is that telling us? I also noticed you tweeted something about Dunderdale and Harper being happy with the results. What did you mean?
I don't believe voters have any blatant individual gender-based discrimination. I'd like to think the voters elected these 11 men because they felt they had the best resume of education, skill-set, and/or experiences, needed to do these jobs.
Ultimately, above all, I think the real issue here is that voters tend to stick with the status quo unless they have major reason to throw out the incumbents. The incumbents are the ones who have a recognition and brand name. They are the ones who have a high media profile. The voters know who they are and know what they have done. Voters are less likely to put trust and faith into people they have never heard of. and quite frankly, it takes tons of work to get your name out there, regardless of your sex or gender! Yes, all 5 women who ran in this election, would have made excellent city councilors, but unfortunately, the men who defeated them, in all cases, are people who have done a better job getting their name out there. Likewise, many other new candidates who were men, were also beaten badly, likely for many of the same reasons.
I'll also suggest that it is easier to get your name out there when you have a recognized list of leadership experiences; and this may be where the gender imbalance in the corporate world comes into play. Men outnumber women in senior management positions, Board of Director positions, CEO positions, etc. and the vast majority of people who run for public office, tend to have work experience with organizations in these types of positions. While there may not have been individual discrimination, I would point to systemic bias as a part of the equation.
With all of this in mind, I do not think that a program that would specifically encourage women to run for office, would solve this problem. I think the real issue here, and one that I would like to see the Provincial Government take a look at, would be taking steps to encourage all of society - especially big corporations, to take steps to raise the profile of women in their organizations in general. We need to start seeing gender equality on Corporate Board of Directors, we need to start seeing gender equality in terms of CEOs and in senior management positions. You fix this imbalance, and I guarantee you will see gender equality in terms of political candidates, and in terms of candidates who get elected.
The same thing could be said for gay people or transgender people. we are grossly underemployed in the work force, and hence, are under-represented in political councils.
We also need to take steps to change the mindset of society, with regards to accepting of diversity, not just in politics, but in leadership roles everywhere. people from all aspects of live can make great leaders. being a woman, or being gay, or being transgendered, should not limit one's ability to climb a corporate ladder, nor should they be cause for society to take them less seriously. This is a challenge I have specifically faced. in 2007, I was seen as a credible and respected man who was a senior policy analyst. fast-forward 2 years, and I am a transgendered woman, and all of a sudden, nobody wanted to hire me to a job at an analyst role. I have worked extremely hard to prove to everyone that I am still the same person and I still have the same education, work experiences and skill-sets. Sadly 5 years later, and 100 job interviews later, I am stuck doing clerical and administrative work, for half the pay I used to make. Taking all of this into consideration, the fact that i was able to secure 5725 votes, against a very strong opponent, for the position of Deputy Mayor, is a huge sign that I may finally see a break through. to know that 5725 people had enough trust and faith in my skill-set, to take on this role, is a sign that if I keep looking hard enough, I just might eventually find an employer willing to give me a shot at analyst or management-level work. and ultimately, I am hoping that running this campaign will help raise my profile so that people will be more likely to give me a chance.
One final thought, selling change takes extra hard work. There is a history and culture of politics being often dominated by rich old men. Heck, not that long ago, the much-loved John Crosbie made sexist and degrading comments, in the Federal House, towards Sheila Copps, one of only a few female MPs in the House at the time. Rather than being disgraced, he was embraced and loved for his comments. This type of attitude is also part of the problem. Rather than encourage women to run for office, I think we need to take steps to encourage existing politicians to be more accepting and respectful towards women.
As far as my comment about Harper and Dunderdale being pleased, it is my opinion that the majority of councilors elected, are very conservative-friendly, in terms of their platforms and/or political history. This definitely seems like a very pro-development council, as well. I have some personal concerns about many social issues, will not be addressed properly, by this council, including concerns about affordable housing, clear sidewalks, protecting the environment, preserving heritage buildings, etc...