One in four: that’s the ratio of female to male MPs elected to the 41st federal Parliament. It’s a staggering underrepresentation, and yet it’s the highest level yet attained for women in the Commons.
These gender imbalances are evident not just in politics but in many senior leadership positions, a fact that has led to the creation of Carleton University’s new Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership. Residing within the university’s school of public policy and administration, the centre opened this past April. It’s dedicated to advancing women’s leadership and analyzing the reasons why women are underrepresented in senior business and political positions, says the centre’s executive director and former deputy head of Status of Women Canada, Clare Beckton.
Underrepresentation by women is a serious policy issue, says Ms. Beckton. “If one half of the population is missing when decisions are being made, then you’re not necessarily getting the best decisions,” she says.
Ms. Beckton says the centre hopes to raise awareness of women’s issues through increased research, by holding specialized events and through engaging the community in critical conversations around the topic of women in leadership roles.
The fact that the centre is on a university campus will help to foster emerging female leaders, says Ms. Beckton. In addition, the mission of the centre fits nicely with a student group already established on campus.
The Carleton chapter of Equal Voice started last fall with the intention of getting more women into politics. Kaisha Thompson, vice-president of the Carleton chapter, says that what they are trying to achieve is in tune with the new centre’s mission.
“I think it’s great. We were looking for something on the administration side to help us out and this is our answer. A centre like this gives us more legitimacy as a group,” says Ms. Thompson.
Collaboration between different organizations is exactly what Ms. Beckton says the centre is trying to achieve. “The goal of the centre is not to compete, but rather to build on and strengthen existing work,” she says. “We hope that it will be a place where women in politics can visit, across party lines, to come together over issues.”