This is a letter written by Shea MacLaughlin, the UNB Student Union's Women's Representative.
The UNB Fredericton campus is fortunate to be hosting the Women for 50% Conference. This event was organized by a group of New Brunswick leaders for the purpose on shedding light on the need for greater female representation in the legislature, and with the additional aim of actually encouraging more women to run for office. The topic of women’s representation isn’t just important on a provincial scale but also at a UNBSU scale. The incoming council is 40% women, which isn’t bad but there is still work to be done.
In a society where women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in many fields, the importance of events like this cannot be understated. There are many myths and misconceptions about why women are underrepresented in leadership roles, with some arguing that women simply do not want leadership roles, with others believing that women are not qualified to be leaders.
These beliefs are not only sexist, but also hint at deep seeded prejudices towards women and female leaders. The reality is that there are more complex barriers that prevent women from attaining leadership positions or running for office. Some of these reasons include the fact that women are still responsible for most of the household labour, and that women are less likely to be encouraged to take on leadership positions. Additionally, the aforementioned gender biases mean that female leaders women are forced to contend with double standards for their behaviour, meaning that they have to ensure they display a stoic and tough leadership style while simultaneously receiving backlash for being too tough.
There are steps that can and must be taken to disrupt the status quo and promote the value of female leaders, in society and on a UNBSU level. To begin, we need to actively seek out and empower women to occupy leadership positions. The UNBSU can cooperate more closely with groups that serve women on this campus, groups like Women in Engineering, or have a stronger partnership with the UNB/STU Women’s Center. Education on the value of women in leadership positions must also occur, and it must be made clear that having women in leadership positions is an essential step in creating a more inclusive, equal, and balanced society.
These are only a few suggestions, but the key takeaway is this: the promotion of female leadership is not solely a women’s issue. It is everyone’s responsibility to champion the value and role of female leaders, and to do their part to help build a more equitable society.