Yesterday was my first day
in office in the Toronto Regional Champion Campaign (TRCC), the mentorship program at Toronto City Hall that pairs young professional women with women councillors.
Sitting in Committee Room 1 (you may remember this space from the all-night deputations from a few months ago) I looked around and thought to myself
I wonder if this room has ever been so full of women.
The slate of this year’s TRCC protegees is formidable. And everyone I met was so nice. I wasn’t expecting anyone to be mean, but I wasn’t ready for everyone to be so friendly. I mean, this was a room of 30 Type-A overachieving women. But there was no inkling of competition. Handshakes and smiles abounded. We were genuinely happy to be there and get the most out of this opportunity. I was even interviewed by David Hains and CBC Here and Now’s Laura Di Battista, which is probably the most famous I have ever felt.
I found out I was paired with Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, and since I have a lot of interest in city planning, the waterfront development, and negotiating issues of heritage preservation, it’s a perfect match. I even hope to attend tomorrow’s Friends of Queen Street meeting about a proposed condo in my ‘hood, which Councillor McMahon will be attending as well.
After a rundown on city governance and media relations, several speakers described the importance of this program and were frankly gosh darn inspiring.
Mentioned on more than one occasion was the United Nations’ minimum recommendation that 30% of government representatives be women. Can you guess which nation ranks #1 in terms of women’s representation in government (not including upper house/senate positions)?
It’s Rwanda. At 56%.
Followed by Andorra (50%) and Cuba (45%). As a nation, Canada ranks 40th, with 25%. Women count for more than half of our population, but just a quarter of our government. Well, at least we rank ahead of the UK (22%) and the US (17%).
Toronto, as a city, fares slightly better. 15 of our 44 councillors are women, bringing the percentage to 34%, meeting the UN’s minimum recommendation. But if Mike Holmes has taught me anything (other than make it right) it’s that minimum code is about minimum value. And if business school taught me anything, it’s that we should be maximizing value. So let’s not congratulate ourselves too much just yet. Let’s get some more equal representation at City Hall.
Now, I just finished reading Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, which debunks a lot of the assumptions about women’s supposed abilities and qualities (or lack thereof). Like how women are supposed to be good at things like intuition, but bad at things like spatial reasoning, and so on. So I’m conflicted about the idea that women are (all supposedly) collaborative, whereas men are (all supposedly) competitive, and that’s why we need women in politics.
I think we need women in politics because politicians make decisions that impact their constituents. And in Toronto the constituents/we the people/taxpayers are 2.5 million men and women of unparalleled diversity, and the decision-makers are primarily men (and primarily white). Therefore there are a lot of perspectives and needs and situations that are not taken in to account when decisions are being made.
So gosh darn it, where are all the ladies at?
“You can’t be what you can’t see” said Marie Wilson on Miss Representation. So a life in politics, an arena occupied largely by men, doesn’t immediately present itself as a viable career option to a woman. There is a photo gallery at City Hall of old white men through Toronto’s history. Actually, to clarify, it’s a photo gallery of all the city’s past mayors (epic facial hair unfortunately went out of style in the 1920s it seems). And while in recent decades there have been women mayors, they constitute the minority. The general feeling one gets while looking at that wall of portraits is: You are entering white man land.
Side Note I don’t want it to look like I’m glazing over the incredible women councillors who work for our city. I don’t know if they picked up on this, but we TRCC-ers were starstruck when they entered the room. Keep it up. I also don’t want it to look like I’m hating on white men. Love you guys. Married one of you. But hopefully you’re aware you’ve got some undeniable advantages over everybody else. And if not, Louis C.K. can help clarify. Also, yes, I know the first two minutes of that video apply to me too.
As I was saying…
Additionally, as women in general earn less on the dollar than men and are still the primary family caregivers, a career in politics that requires a substantial financial and time commitment simply to enter the running already puts women at a disadvantage.
Oh, and the types of comments in the video below are still the norm, not an exception, so as a culture we’ve got a ways to go before women in politics are held to the same esteem as men.
If TRCC succeeds, you’ll see the candidates campaigning in the coming years. And moving forward there will be more women in council. And that presence will encourage more women to approach the bench. And women will be better represented at City Hall. One day we might even get close to Rwanda in terms of women’s representation in government.
In the meantime, I am very excited to be part of TRCC, and can’t wait to get my hands dirty in Toronto politics.
How are you involved in politics, if at all? What’s keeping you from getting in the race? Curious about anything at City Hall? Can I count on your vote?