A little push may be all they need

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

February 21, 2007 Ed Cartoon

As the old adage goes, “behind every great man is a great woman.”

Behind this year’s presidential candidates are brilliant female campaign managers. Each of them seems equally qualified to run for University Students’ Council president, but none of them is doing so.

In USC presidential history, there have only been four female presidents since 1965; the last was in 1995.

There are numerous women on the Board of Directors and Council this year, but very few run for president. Why?

Female university enrolment has surged relatively recently, so a spike in the number of female candidates may take a few more years to arrive.

Women also may not be socialized to enter the limelight. Whom do they look to as role models? It might be difficult for women to imagine themselves in the role of president without strong female figures as inspiration. While a role model doesn’t have to be gender-oriented, it’s only natural to identify with someone who shares your gender.

Maybe voters and candidates subconsciously associate leadership with masculine traits like strength and confidence. Men are traditionally considered more cutthroat and aggressive, which might make them better suited for politics.

Female politicians " including Liberal MP Belinda Stronach " face more media scrutiny about their appearance and their private lives. This can create a deep-seated feeling of intimidation discouraging women from pursuing politics.

Ultimately there’s no definite reason why women aren’t running for USC president, but that shouldn’t discourage us from addressing the issue. Efforts should focus on encouraging women to run.

Affirmative action isn’t necessarily the correct approach in this case; the USC shouldn’t worry about meeting quotas, but rather making sure any qualified candidates, regardless of what demographics they belong to, have the confidence and motivation to run.

Women and visible minorities face numerous barriers and might require a push to run for president. One solution would be providing campaign assistance for female and minority candidates " not financially, but through mentoring already-qualified individuals.

Some argue USC services like the Women’s Issues Network have a responsibility to encourage female participation.

The key is encouraging candidates while still acknowledging that they’re strong enough to stand on their own; there are many qualified female or minority candidates and making them “charity cases” could alienate them from voters and competitors.

We might not know exactly why so few women run for president, but we should care. With strong women running presidential campaigns and holding positions on the Board of Directors, the situation is improving, but there’s still lots of work to do.

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