Caroline Cochrane: Women in Leadership

Delivered on March 8, 2018

Mr. Speaker, March 8th is International Women’s Day. On this day, I would like to highlight both the strides we are making in the Northwest Territories and the challenges faced by women in taking on leadership roles.  

Our Government has made mandate commitments to increase the number of women in leadership roles, both on public boards and in electoral politics. Since the beginning of the 18th Legislative Assembly, the Government of the Northwest Territories has appointed 172 persons to public boards, 95 women and 77 men. This brings the total composition of territorial government board appointments to 122 women and 120 men.  

So, overall, we now have an approximately equal number of men and women serving on Government of the Northwest Territories public boards. This is cause for celebration, and we thank all the well-qualified women who have stepped forward to serve as board members.

As important as this achievement is, we still have work to do. We need to increase the representation of women in leadership roles on these boards. Currently, only 36% of our public boards have women serving in the role of President or Chair. 

The picture is less encouraging when it comes to elected leadership positions. Women in the Northwest Territories have largely been underrepresented in elected leadership positions for many years, especially at the territorial level. You have only to look around this Chamber, Mr. Speaker, to know this is true. Today, on International Women’s Day, I would like to thank my colleague, Ms. Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, and the only other woman Member of this 18th Legislative Assembly for being here.

There are many more women who could be here. We all know strong women in our communities who are working to ensure that everyone’s families are secure and well-cared for, and that our communities are safe.  I recently had the honour of meeting some outstanding women leaders at the inaugural Women’s Caucus of the Northwest Territories Association of Communities and I sincerely hope that they consider running for territorial election in the near future.                                                                            

Women face many barriers, they may be paid less in their jobs than their male counterparts, and they may bear a disproportionate share of the workload of caring for children and aging or disabled relatives, while managing their households and these factors make it harder for many women to enter politics. But I have met many strong women that want their communities to be healthy places to live, and they are holding governments accountable at all levels in all the ways they can, including through their own participation as elected leaders.                                   

Unfortunately many strong women who do seek, and win, elected leadership positions are often stereotyped or judged negatively. Women who make it into leadership roles are often second-guessed, left out of decisions, or even set up to fail, purely because they are women. Instead of being valued for the perspective they can provide, they often find themselves having to walk a tight rope of being just assertive “enough” to get their work done without being walked over or being so strong as to alienate those around them. All while facing super-woman level expectations of balancing life, family, community, and work, not to mention standards of personal appearance that are only applied to our gender.

Too few people consider the consequences of these negative judgements and levels of burden on women in their public and private lives. However, they are a form of violence, that day by day and year by year crushes women’s spirits dampens our ambitions and discourages our young women from taking the risks and acquiring the skills to be leaders.

All of us in this House, men as well as women need to be active in our support of women. We need more women in decision-making roles at all levels, especially here in our consensus government. This is not only a matter of basic fairness, the inclusion of more women’s perspectives means better decision-making and more balanced policy choices for everyone.

This is why our government, through the Women’s Advisory office, has been offering Campaign Schools for Women. The first Campaign School for 2018 took place this past weekend in Fort Simpson on March 3rd and 4th, and a second is scheduled for Yellowknife on the weekend of March 10th and 11th.  Women throughout the Northwest Territories can come and gain the knowledge they need to run for elected office at all levels, from District Education Authorities all the way to the Legislative Assembly. The school also provides skills for those who would like to support women candidates by working on their campaigns.  But our campaign schools can address only a few of the obstacles for women in the field of politics.

As a Cabinet Minister and a woman, I encourage everyone in this House to help us level the playing field.  This is a time of change and opportunity. Listen to women, question stereotypes and negative judgments of women leaders, encourage talented women to lead and offer them some real help, like donating to their campaigns or providing a few hours of child or other care.  If you’re a successful politician, mentor a woman to step into your shoes.

I am very confident that, with a level playing field, at least as many northern women will succeed as leaders as men, at every level and we will all be better for that.

Happy International Women’s Day!  Thank you, Mr. Speaker.