January 30, 2013 by Deborah Gillis
Can we finally put it to rest?
I’m referring to that “Are we ready?” question. “Are we ready for a woman premier?” “Are we ready for a gay leader?”
With the selection of Kathleen Wynne as Leader of the Liberal Party and Premier-designate of Ontario, a resounding “yes” to both questions echoed across Canada this past weekend.
The fact that 87% of Canadians now live in a province or territory led by a woman suggests that the majority of Canadians are ready to move past labels of gender, sexual orientation, color or religion, and focus instead on the qualities that make a person a good leader.
As a candidate, I remember feeling uncomfortable with questions about my gender— in particular, when I was asked about issues that matter “to women.” The question itself is a reflection of ingrained stereotypes, including the age-old assumption that quality health care, education, and accessible daycare matter to women and that the economy, job creation, and a competitive tax system do not.
Yet one of the most common questions asked in the lead-up to Kathleen Wynne’s victory was, “Does gender matter?”
In terms of skills? No. A good leader is a good leader. Her gender was a fact, but not a factor in her victory. And that’s as it should be.
In terms of perspective? Of course.
And as a role model? Definitely.
I remember meeting a young girl when I was out on the campaign trail. When her mother explained that I was a candidate in the election, the little girl looked up at me and said, “I thought only boys did that.”
Canada’s women premiers are role models, and not just for girls and women—for men as well. Their skills and approaches to tackling the largest issues facing the country will challenge stereotypes about what leadership looks like. Most importantly, they have changed our perspective—it’s not the picture of five women and five men premiers sitting around Canada’s leadership table that is surprising, it’s the picture of Canada’s boardrooms, where women remain shut out of decision-making in almost half of the country’s public companies.
Kathleen Wynne and her fellow women premiers have shattered the glass ceiling for women in Canadian politics. It’s past time for the same to happen in business.