I want to challenge us as women to speak up at all the tables we’re [seated at], because if we don’t speak up, our voices are never involved in the process of problem solving, and we won’t get to the right answers without our voices.”

Former First Lady Michelle Obama

And that is why we need to have more women at the political table.

This week I had the opportunity to hear four women talking about their path to political office – two were ex-mayors and two are current city . I noticed a couple of common threads to their path into politics.

First, all of them were advocates for a cause. For Karen Farbridge it was climate change; for Brenda it was way more personal – her townhouse had been built on contaminated landfill and she led the charge to rectify the situation. Leanne Piper was concerned about the educational system and as a youngster, Chris Fonseca spoke up at Council about the local swimming pool schedule.

Second, was the way they were received and treated by their local councils. Their voices were totally dismissed. This disrespect made them determined that citizens had a right to speak up and be heard, and if they were on Council, they were going to change this attitude.

The panelists did not sugar coat what it was like to be a politician;  to put yourself out there. The loss of privacy and always being on was one negative aspect, and with social media, the personal attacks could be unnerving.  To survive you had to develop a thick skin and not take all of the negative comments personally. No doubt easier said than done.

Women bring a different skill set to the position – collaboration, listening, relationship building – skills that can make a difference. While more women are running for office, it is still a man’s world, and often they have to work harder to succeed.  Yet, none of the speakers regretted their foray into politics.

Asked how to help a woman candidate, Brenda Halloran was quick to say “give money.”  Other suggestions included helping with the campaign, distributing flyers, making phone calls and Chris Fonseca shared that she’d recruited high school students who had their 40 hours of community service to complete.

The panel shared the following advice to the audience, and particularly those who were contemplating running for office:

  • Know why you want to run for office
  • Be clear on your values – write them down
  • Trust your gut.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Ask for a mentor
  • Go to campaign school.
  • Step beyond your comfort zone.

Back to Michelle Obama’s comments – it is vital that women have a say at the different levels of government – be it at the school board, municipal, provincial or federal level. Is this something for you? If you serve on a non-profit board, you’ve already learned about governance. And you can learn more through campaign school. In Guelph, a campaign school is being launched in February – https://gwcampaignschool.com

With the local elections scheduled for next fall, think about it. It’s important that women have a place at the table.  Our voices need to be heard and included.

Anne Day

Anne Day

Company of Women

I have had an eclectic career from running non-profit organizations and being editor of a national magazine, to working for government on women’s issues. In 2003 I launched Company of Women, an organization that supports women in business. A prolific blogger, I also write for the Huffington Post, and several other online publications. I am the author of five books on women and entrepreneurship, and co-author of Good Enough. Embrace who you are. Unleash your brilliance. which is available on amazon.ca In June, 2016 I launched Full Circle Publishing offering one-stop services to get your words out into the world.