Next time you sit in the boardroom of any agency, board or commission, try counting how many women are sitting at the decision-making tables in Hamilton. It won’t take you long.
As someone who sits at a few of those tables, I’ve become used to the lack of female voices on issues that directly affect women and their families. I feel that I’m missing out, and so are other board members because we’re not hearing enough diverse points of view.
I’m not saying men’s voices shouldn’t be heard, but I want to hear more women’s voices when community decisions are being considered. Women and men have different life experiences, are socialized differently and, as a result, their views and perspective on what a community needs will be different.
Women’s lives are affected every day by others’ decisions relating to workplaces, work-life balance, childcare, transportation, safety, setting up a business, affordable housing, and tackling violence against women and girls. These are some of the top priorities identified by women. Yet they feel that their perspectives on these areas of concern are not being heard and that their participation in the decision-making is not being sought out, whether by corporate, municipal or community boards.
A 2011 World Economic Forum study found that Canadian women have nearly closed the gap with men in education and health — but not in the economic and political realms where the gaps are enormous –leadership remains defined on masculine terms.
“This is a real reminder and wakeup call to the business community and leaders at all levels in Canada that we have a lot of work to do,” says Deborah Gillis, senior VP at Catalyst, an organization that helps businesses build inclusive environments and expand work opportunities for women.
It turns out that inclusiveness is good business, too.
“Our research shows that more women in leadership roles on boards of directors and senior leadership teams points to organizations having stronger financial performance,” says Gillis.
In fact, market trends show that we are moving away from a manufacturing-based economy that favored the size and strength of men to a service and information based economy that favors strong communications, empathy and teamwork skills often associated with women.
Politically, studies show that women change discussions on social policy and gender issues and institutions become more responsive to equity-seeking groups. It is therefore critical that the City of Hamilton take women’s and girls’ realities into account when planning the city’s vision and future.
We have great diversity in our city where the majority of residents – 52 per cent – are women. Elected officials need to directly engage with women and organizations that represent women to ensure local government understands the views of a wide range of women in Hamilton. This can be achieved by providing the opportunity for a genuine two-way dialogue on policies that affect women. This will lead to more inclusive decision-making and a community that is more welcoming of all citizens.
There’s also a role for corporate and community leaders. We’re all being taught about the importance of diversity within our businesses, institutions and organizations. To achieve that diversity, we need to do better at outreach and networking with women who have lived experience or professional expertise to help bring more points of view to decision making. If businesses and organizations are really committed, we need to make a plan and embed opportunities for women in our recruitment, retention, mentoring and development policies and practices.
There’s another compelling reason for women leaders to be visible and recognized by the community: so that more young women will then feel free to come forward and make their contributions to society.
Role models encourage and help upcoming generations of women to become our future leaders. We can ensure young women have these role models to look up to by helping make more women’s voices heard and by seeking and acknowledging female leaders.
Both men and women will benefit from more women’s perspectives, talents and passions. And as a result, our community will be healthier.
Denise Doyle is the CEO of YWCA Hamilton.