Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Breaking Traditional Leadership

On Saturday the Ontario Liberal Party, for the second time in its history, selected a woman to be its leader. Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West) will now go on to be leader the Liberal Party through very challenging times.

Wynne’s victory is no longer a strange event in Canada. When she formally takes the reins from Dalton McGuinty (OLP – Ottawa South) she will become the sixth current female Premier. The next time the Premiers gather around a table nearly half of them will be women. Eva Aariak (Nunavut), Kathy Dunderdale (Newfoundland and Labrador), Christy Clark (British Columbia), Alison Redford (Alberta), and Pauline Marois (Quebec) have preceded Wynne in the current wave of female first ministers. It is a fascinating trend that is difficult not to notice. These leaders come from all political stripes and all regions of the country.

Politics is a lagging indicator. In fact, leadership in general lags behind other areas. For example, in education a majority of the teachers are women. However, most of the principals, vice principals and superintendents are men. You would think with such a large pool of female candidates to draw from that this trend would be reversed, and it is shifting, but it takes considerable time. The same thing can be seen in other professions, like law or medicine. According to statistics from Maclean’s, in almost every discipline in university women are the majority. This has been true in the Arts for a long time, and Science lagged behind, but has since changed.

As a result, twenty years from now it is possible that most professional work spaces will be easily majority female in composition. Naturally leadership positions will be filled by more women as they increase their share of the talent pool.

Politics is even more difficult for non-traditional leadership to break into. The reason is because normally the people in politics have an established career in the private sector, or held lower elected office. Local politics can be very unforgiving to outsiders. Without the support of political parties personal networks and reputation go a long way. In addition, low voter turnout probably further hurts non-traditional candidates. Take for example my city of Brampton. In City Council, of the ten members and three are women, which really isn’t so bad. Our mayor, Susan Fennell is also a woman. However, in a city with large shares of visible minorities, particularly South Asians, there is only one South Asian member of City Council. Contrast that to the local MPPs and MPs, a majority of whom are from visible minorities.

It is passing strange that white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, heterosexual men continue to dominate our politics in this point in our history. It appears more and more that not fitting the above label is not a disqualifier for office, or even higher office. I do not mean to suggest that white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, heterosexual men should not be present in politics, or are somehow unqualified, if they are selected by their constituents to represent them then that’s all that matters. In principle it is the ideas and policies voters are choosing, not the identity of the candidate.

Still, I have noticed more and more that those with perspectives different from my own offer a richer interpretation of the world and together we can craft a more nuanced interpretation. Despite the fact that I support equal rights for women, I have never been a woman, and that gives me blind spots in my experience that I cannot compensate for on my own. A diversity of voices is beneficial to all of us and wherever decisions are being made we should strive to have as divergent of perspectives as possible offering input.

Kathleen Wynne has made history for being Ontario’s first female and first openly gay premier. I sincerely doubt that she will be the last. Of all Ontario’s premiers, all have been men, all have come from British ancestry, and all but two were Protestants (two were Catholics). There will come a time when all those glass ceilings will be broken. However, while the symbolism is important it is not enough to be different, these candidates and future leaders must bring some personal merit and not merely an identity to the table. Being different is simply not enough.

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