Thoughts on the Gender Parity Debate
(and Women in Politics)
With Trudeau fulfilling his commitment to have a cabinet with gender parity, we resume the debate about how to include more women in politics (and apparently whether this is even a valid goal. This is 2015, isn’t it?). This issue is mirrored in the corporate world to a large extent. The lack of women in politics is most visible in our candidates, but extends throughout the party apparatus from our executives to our campaign organisations to our volunteers. Why is it that women are reluctant to get involved involve themselves in the political process? The answer may be in the underlying issues still faced by women in our society – self-doubt, socialization, and gate-keeping.
Anyone who has ever tried to convince a woman to run will tell you that it is not a decision made lightly. And yes, it does take a lot of convincing. If anyone has ever seen the 6th season of The Good Wife (spoiler alert), the character of Alicia Florrick has to be asked repeatedly before she even seriously considers the idea. That’s not an uncommon response. Not only do women have to be asked, rather than seeking it out on their own, they need to be asked repeatedly.
While women are still more likely to shoulder the majority of the burden of domestic duties, some research indicates that this may not be a particularly deciding factor when deciding whether or not to run (we will leave the discussion of optics and effect on the campaign for another time). And to be sure, women candidates are more likely to have their appearance, family life, or speaking style talked about than a male candidate (think Hilary Clinton re: becoming a grandmother v Joe Biden becoming a grandfather).
Women are also more likely to doubt their own qualifications then men are. This is true not only in politics but in the private sector. Women will often only apply for positions that they are 100% qualified for beforehand, whereas many men will apply for positions they have not quite met the qualifications for (a really good article about this here). Women “believe they’re not qualified because they think women have to be twice as good to get half as far” (source).
This self-doubt may stem from the way that young women are socialized in comparison to young men. A study of college students aged 18-25 in the United States found:
1. Young men are more likely than young women to be socialized by their parents to think
about politics as a career path.
2. From their school experiences to their peer associations to their media habits, young
women tend to be exposed to less political information and discussion than do young men.
3. Young men are more likely than young women to have played organized sports and care
4. Young women are less likely than young men to receive encouragement to run for office from anyone.
5. Young women are less likely than young men to think they will be qualified to run for
office, even once they are established in their careers
These perceptions carry forward, and are not unlike the issues surrounding the lack of women in the science or engineering fields.
Part of the problem stems from political gatekeepers in the parties, who are likely to be male. One political scientist found that when women were involved in the nomination process, more women were likely to become candidates. This may well be true, as recruiting often comes through the gatekeeper’s own personal networks, which are more often an outward reflection of themselves. If women are less likely to talk about politics with the men in their lives and only express that interest to other women where they feel safe, unless there are women involved in the hiring and recruitment process or a conscious effort to include women such as quotas or search requirements, women are not going to organically increase in the political sphere.
It also means that the people we first think of to run and to be part of campaigns are more likely to be people who have previously expressed interest, which links back to how we socialize young women. It’s human nature to take this mental shortcut, rather than thinking about who would make a great candidate and putting in the effort to secure them.
What can we do to change this?
- Start the recruitment process early and touch base often
- Spread the word about successes that women candidates have had in campaign activities, even if they do not win
- Training regimes so women feel prepared to be candidates
- Encourage our daughters from an early age to consider politics and involvement in the political process
- Don’t take the easy way out and only invite people who first come to mind to run
- As women, raise up other women and support them (shout out to my campaign sisters)
- Make campaign and political spaces inclusive and safe
Above all, take the time to self-reflect about your role in the process, to have that conversation, to be more inclusive. It will make all the difference.
TL:DR – we need to spend the time convincing women to be involved in politics until such time as we socialize future generations of girls to want to be involved.
Thank You Lindsay Amantea via CLEARLY CANADIAN