In my Twitter feed this morning I saw an article the Edmonton Journal posted entitled “Reorganization means not one of the City of Edmonton’s general managers will be female” along with a photo showing 12 men in suits and one lone woman (Coun. Bev Esslinger, the only women on the 13-member Edmonton City Council).
Unwisely (as this was before the comforting effects of my morning coffee) I clicked and read the article, which further depressed me with its reminder that “Edmonton was ranked one of the worst places to be a woman in Canada” (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) and that overall our city lacks female leadership and our women earn “just 59 cents on the male dollar” (although this CBC article puts it at 63 cents to the male dollar, either way equally abhorrent).
In other news today, Forbes released its 2016 list of the World’s Richest people. 30 Canadians made the list and they were ALL WOMEN!!!
Bahahahahaha. Oh, I make funny Tuesday jokes.
City governance and national leadership have never been a particular interest of mine in terms of Careers to Pursue, and as I got ready this morning, I started wondering why. I tried picturing what this job would look and feel like on a daily basis: why my personal distaste? Women like helping society, right? Or from the other side of the coin, these positions seem to contain a not-insignificant amount of power, influence and monetary compensation. Women like power, influence and money too, don’t we?
But in my imagination these jobs also contained lots of responsibility and moving pieces, negotiations, building a following of supporters, all in the public eye, and (at least from my point of view) I started to understand why perhaps there are too few women in these positions.
At least, these are the thoughts rolling through my head this morning now that I have a coffee in hand.
Reason #1: In a nutshell (or a very large, full laundry basket, whatever metaphor feels more apt), women are not used to having help.
When I hear about jobs like this I think, “Oh my god, it’s going to frogging wear me out. That is too many balls to juggle!” because I am not used to the idea that I can have staff. Women are used to being the assistant (and being damn good ones) but we are not used to having access to our own damn good assistants. If you as an adult are not used to having this sort of help in the workplace (and, let’s be honest, support systems at home), it can be very difficult to imagine. I think more men understand that there will be this support network in place when they apply for new jobs, whereas women look at the scope of work, contemplate whether they can personally accomplish it, and put it aside as too burdensome… for ONE person, of course. But put a staff on that? Real, damn good assistants in the workplace? Someone at home pushing you to be a leader? That makes it a whole different story.
Reason #2: Women are used to being treated as if their opinions on public, political and business matters are less important by a thousand small cuts.
“Now Sarah, I don’t believe you – wait a few years and you’ll change your mind about having kids.”; “Pretty AND talented!” – true things said to me in professional business settings while trying to talk about business. People being confused at my presence in the professional world results in uneasy comments like the above on a regular basis (from men and women), subtle little reminders that the world (still) thinks of my presence in these settings as odd and temporary. It’s off-putting and incredibly demeaning. We wince and talk about upspeak and vocal fry when we hear women’s voices, and don’t even get me STARTED on the policing of women’s appearances. Nevermind, I’ve already begun.
Reason #3: The Evil Eye of Mordor is real and it’s focused the strength of its judgmental glare on women.
A few weeks ago I was asked to speak on a public panel at an industry event in my city. The panel involved sitting on a stage with 5 other professionals in front of a crowd of 100 people and doing a Q&A with a moderator on industry topics. Now, I know for a fact that I was not one of the first women the organizers asked to sit on the panel, in part because weeks prior a colleague of mine was talking to me about the fact that she got invited to speak on the panel but she wasn’t sure if she was going to do it. I encouraged her to say yes – she has 10 years more experience in the industry than I do, she’s talented, has done a TON of great work, and would have so many great insights to share – but she is an introvert, and feels uncomfortable being on a stage. “Plus”, she concluded, “I have nothing to wear for something like that.” I ended up being the only woman on the 6-person panel, and I know it wasn’t through any lack of effort or hard work on the part of the organizing committee.
I don’t know what the percentage of women turning down opportunities because of wardrobe/public eye issues adds up to, but I bet the number would be surprising. I would dismiss these fears as silly except that anyone who knows the name Hillary Clinton knows that it’s not. At all. It’s hard to focus on the ideas you’re going to talk about when you think the crowd is only looking at your outfit and wincing at your vocal fry.
In conclusion, these thoughts have made me realize two very important truths. First, I should get more involved in my city’s (and my country’s) politics. Secondly, the only living woman who has enough fashion sense, sex-appeal, confidence and influence to be the next President in this Evil Eye world is Beyoncé.