Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the season finale of the Women of Influence luncheon series. The topic – “Let’s talk about women in politics” – was particularly timely, given the results of the recent U.S. election race, and featured three of Canada’s very own women in politics:
- Jane Philpott, Minister of Health;
- Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; and
- Bardish Chagger, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism.
The panel discussed all those fundamental, but crucial, questions that one must consider when it comes to women’s involvement in political life. What is it like to be a woman in politics? What are some of the challenges that come from being a woman in this role? Do you think Canada is ready for the first elected female Canadian Prime Minister? What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders – whether in politics or any other professional field? The answers from the three respective Ministers were as interesting as they were diverse, but the message which struck the strongest chord with me came from Minister Chagger. Asked about her experience as a woman in politics, her responses were quite candid: “It’s amazing being a woman in politics,” she began, cautioned by “…you do need thick skin,” and “I have encountered derogatory language.”
As someone who works in communications, what I found particularly interesting in Minister Chagger’s answers was an underlying refrain about the importance of public discourse, and the impetus that falls on all of us to shape and change this public discourse for the better. As students, public relations professionals, communicators, business women, aspiring and political leaders alike, we all have an opportunity, and an obligation, to shape a positive public discourse about female leadership at large. As expressed by Minister Chagger, “…We need to celebrate the potential that women bring to the table.”
What’s the reality for Canadian women in politics? I can’t speak from personal experience, but an opinion piece by Elizabeth Renzetti published in The Globe and Mail at the end of November offered some telling insight. The article, titled “Having an opinion while female: You’ll need a thick skin,” was in large part spurred by Sandra Jansen’s decision to cross the floor from the Alberta PC to Alberta NDP party, and the “lucid correspondence” she received following this decision. When Global TV visited an Edmonton high-school to capture student’s reactions to the attacks Ms. Jansen received, one young woman interviewed said “she wasn’t really surprised.” As eloquently articulated by Elizabeth Renzetti in her piece, “The conundrum here is that we need that young woman, and others like her. We need them to be mayors and city councillors and MLAs and prime ministers. We need them to think that council chambers and legislatures are places that welcome them, not grudgingly but wholeheartedly.” We need women in politics, we need women in leadership, and we need more women at the table in general.
At this luncheon, it was amazing to see a room so full of inspiring women – CEOs, journalists, business leaders, aspiring and professional politicians alike, and it certainly inspired me!
So, for all the aspiring female leaders out there, here are three inspiring messages, brought to you by three of Canada’s foremost political leaders, who also happen to be women:
- Don’t be afraid to take risks and ask questions – you will be surprised at the outcome.
- Put compassion first – help to shape the type of kind, open community you ultimately want to live in. Minister Philpott referenced this quote during the luncheon, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” (I believe this came from Pericles)
- Whatever your passion is, pursue it with vigor – authenticity and hard work will always win.
Authored by: Emma McKay, Co-Founder and Editor at mPolitics