Apparently, men don’t listen very well.
Especially male politicians.
Last week, at a gathering called Getting Women to the Gate, women politicians, both past and present, met to offer prospective female leaders some witty, personal and insightful advice.
“When I won, I was the only woman with four other men,” said NDP MLA Lorraine Peter.
“I learned very quickly I had to make my voice heard.
“And I found I was always repeating myself,” she said with a laugh.
Sitting at a long table with seven other women of various political bents, Peter remembered her first time speaking in the legislative assembly during Question Period.
“When you think about it, public speaking is really nerve-wracking,” she said.
“The first time I stood up my knees where shaking so much I had to lean against my desk.
“People told me I looked so confident, and all I kept thinking was, ‘Thank God for that desk.’”
“You should try being the one who has to answer those questions,” joked Justice and Education minister Elaine Taylor.
When people first approached Taylor about putting her name forward, she thought they were “out to lunch,” she said.
But eventually she decided to give it a try.
“The day after I was elected, I woke up and thought, ‘Oh, my God,’” said Taylor.
“It was a bit of a reality check.”
Being the only woman in the Yukon Party cabinet can be a challenge, she said.
“There’s no question that men think differently than women,” said Taylor.
“And it’s so critical to have those different perspectives around the table.”
“Without more women in politics, we won’t have a fair and equitable society,” said Pam Boyd, who ran under the NDP banner in the last federal election.
“And as much as men think they can address things as truly and sensitively as women — they can’t.”
Women aren’t even halfway to equality, said past Copperbelt NDP candidate Cynthia Kearns.
Although women make up 52 per cent of the population, only two of every 10 candidates for political office are women, she said.
“There is certainly not a very equitable picture either of the participation of women or First Nations in political life,” added former NDP MLA Lois Moorcroft.
“And it’s important to have different perspectives at the table, when it comes to making decisions,” Moorcroft said.
Although there were some jokes made about men’s inability to listen, the mood in the room was more conciliatory than accusatory.
And not everyone agreed that men and women think differently.
“Men can nurture, men can listen, men can collaborate,” said Moorcroft.
“I have worked with men who do all of those things, and I think the responsibility for changing political culture needs to be on the part of all elected officials — not just women.”
It’s a disservice to suggest that women should be responsible for changing the culture of politics because they bring a nurturing style, said Moorcroft.
Women can be strong leaders and decision makers and exercise the attributes that people tend to assign to men, she said.
“Many women succeed in the competitive world and I think women and men can both bring the same skills and talents to political life.”
However, women sometimes face a few more challenges.
“I was pregnant and had a child while serving in cabinet,” said Taylor, who shared this experience with only one other woman politician in the country, at the time.
“It was kind of like breaking ground,” she said.
“And I was back to work after two and a half months — I had three budgets to present.”
Before running for office, it’s important to have full family support, said Boyd.
“They may not necessarily say they are supporting you, but when I saw my partner out there putting up my signs, I thought, ‘OK, I have his support.’”
“And, as women, we do support one another,” added Kearns.
“Like tonight, even though many of us are on different sides of the fence, we’re all nodding and supporting each other.”
It’s time for women to speak out, said past, Old Crow MLA Norma Kassi.
“It’s time women started stepping up to the plate,” she said.
“It’s long past time.”
Women can make a lot of changes, said Kassi.
“People will listen and hear you.”
“We can’t make a difference unless women get out there and run,” agreed Boyd.
“We need that balance.”
Some countries have rules that require a certain number of women to run in each election, she said.
“So, why can’t we do this, in this country that is supposed to be so advanced and progressive?”
Boyd was encouraged by the dozen or so women who turned out for the meeting.
“And one day, I hope there’s lots more,” she said.
After all eight women in politics had shared their stories, anecdotes and advice, they fielded questions over homemade snacks.
Four hours later, the discussion was still going strong.
“The discussion went ‘til nearly 11 at night,” said Moorcroft.
“It is nice to be in a group like this,” said Whitehorse councillor Bev Buckway.
“It’s a chance to connect with other women.
“We don’t do it enough.”
Plans are already in the works for another gathering.
For more information, visit www.gettingtothegate.com