Confidence and Female Achievement

When it comes to diversity in politics, Canada has a long way to go.

This is true even compared to the United States. Only one woman has ever been elected as a premier in Canada, and we’ve had only one female prime minister. The U.S., on the other hand, currently has eight female state governors, and 22 states have had female governors. When it comes to representation by immigrants and visible minorities, Canada falls even further behind. The U.S. has one governor of South Asian descent, a Latino governor, and, of course, an African-American president. Comparably, Canada’s ministers are almost uniformly white males. The two most notable Canadian female political figures, Adrienne Clarkson and Michaelle Jean, were both Governor-General, a largely symbolic role. Despite a relatively liberal immigration policy and more female births than male, Canada’s political institutions remain overwhelmingly comprised of males of European descent.

Not surprisingly, this can negatively affect how confident women are in their own abilities. As I found out in my political science class last week, even though women now excel in many “male” fields, they tend to feel less confident, often negating their own skills and expertise. I was struck by this paradox: women have advanced their careers, achieved political milestones like equal pay, voting rights, and acceptance to previously barred fields. Yet even as women become more capable and more confident, they are rarely as confident as men.

It seems that this research hits close to home at McGill. I haven’t had the opportunity to conduct a study to determine if women and men are equally secure in their abilities as students and educators, but there is a clear discrepancy between the two in higher-level positions. For instance, out of 13 student senators on the university senate, only four are women. How can we expect women to feel equally confident when there are so few apparent examples of female achievement? Luckily, there are efforts to overcome obstacles to female political involvement. McGill’s Women in House is a great program that encourages women to get involved in politics. It offers female students a trip to Ottawa to hear politicians speak and to shadow an MP. Through this program, McGill encourages its young women to develop their interests and achieve the expertise necessary to give them confidence in their own abilities. It’s time we spend more on programs that encourage political engagement from all backgrounds and introduce new voices to the student body.

Canada prides itself on being a multicultural, inclusive, and tolerant society. But the leaders of our political parties are far from diverse or multicultural, especially when compared to the leaders in American politics. Canada is proud to be a country where political representation does not depend on money or image, as it often does in the U.S., but it too often seems to depend on something else entirely: irrelevent biographical details like gender or ethnicity. It’s time we see more female faces representing our diverse society.

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