The impressive panel consisted of: former MP (now Chief Legal Officer at EnStream), Martha Hall Findlay; Senior Advisor to the House Leader in the Government of Ontario, Amy Archer; former Toronto Mayor, Barbara Hall; and lawyer and former policy advisor, Gina Saccoccio Brannan. The panel was moderated by Jane Hilderman, Acting Director and Research Director of Samara Canada, a charity dedicated to reconnecting citizens to politics.
Ms. Hilderman started the evening with some sobering facts. While women make up 52% of Canada's population we represent far less than 50% of the elected members at any level of Canadian government. In Ontario, women represent 35.5% of the legislature and after the 2011 federal election women represented 25% of those elected to Parliament. In a recent survey 10% of men answered "Yes" when asked if they would consider running for office compared to only 3% of women. However, when asked if they "might" consider running, 12% of women positively responded, compared to 18% of men.
Some of the questions asked of the panel last night included: Why should more women enter politics? Why don't they? How do women get involved? Some take-away points:
- We don't need more women in politics because women are more "co-operative" or "consensus driven" (Ha!), we need more women in politics because we make up 52% of the population and we should be at the table when legislation is being made that affects us.
- Some women are held back by a "weird lack of confidence". Women who are already accomplished (CEOs of high profile companies, have three children, volunteer on numerous committees, etc.) wrongly think they don't have what it takes to run in an election. We need more women to run, so we need to stop telling them how hard it is.
- We need to encourage other women and support other women to run. This does not necessarily mean we should vote for other women just because they are women. But if we can get more women to run, more women will be elected.
- Politics should not be a career (for either men or women). It is helpful to have a career first in another field, and maybe wait until your children are older (for both men and women) before jumping in with both feet. You can always be involved behind the scene at your local riding association, by helping on a campaign for a candidate you want to support, donating your time or money, etc.
- Although it was busy and hectic, these women really enjoyed their time in office.
At the networking event after the presentation I met many accomplished women interested in entering politics, either as candidates or behind the scene as political aides or advisers. I am confident that we can, and will, make progress in this area. Political decisions have an impact on women's lives, on our health, education, childcare etc. and we need our voices to be heard. We need to get our 52% at the table when legislative decisions are being made.
Besides checking out Samara, if you are a woman and interested in getting involved in politics, visit Equal Voices' website, an organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of public office in Canada.
Also, if you missed this event, the OBA's Women Lawyers Forum will be hosting additional Pathways to Power events in the fall and spring addressing women in the boardroom and on the bench.