Gerbasi laments barriers facing female leaders
Federation of Canadian Municipalities president on gender-equality panel at Halifax conference
Women make up fewer than a fifth of Canadian mayors, and a group of female leaders say men in power need to pass the baton if such inequities are to change.
Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of Toronto's non-partisan CivicAction alliance, told a Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference that the World Economic Forum estimates it will take over 200 years to achieve global gender parity.
She said it's unlikely to happen any sooner unless women — and other underrepresented groups — are offered a seat at the table.
"I don't think we're going to be able to see huge change on this until certain people pass the baton of power to someone else," she said Friday.
"It's not popular to have to acknowledge that you have to tap out and let someone else get that spot."
Palvetzian was one of four women on a panel about gender equality, women in leadership and overcoming barriers at the conference in Halifax.
FCM president Jenny Gerbasi, a Winnipeg city councillor, said talented and dedicated women are kept out of leadership roles by a number of barriers, including weak parental leave policies and fears of harassment.
According to the federation, women in Canada represent 28 per cent of city councillors and just 18 per cent of mayors — though the UN says women should make up at least 30 per cent of decision-making positions in order to reflect women's concerns.
"Without balanced representation, we miss out. And good government needs diverse voices," Gerbasi told the conference. "The playing field is uneven now, so to ensure we're getting the best people for the job, we need to level it."
She added that the FCM established a standing policy committee on increasing women's participation in municipal government over a decade ago.
Catherine Clark, a broadcaster and daughter of former prime minister Joe Clark and prominent lawyer Maureen McTeer, said men may feel excluded from conversations about gender parity, and need to be part of the solution.
"This is a symbiotic relationship. It is essential that we have the support of our male colleagues as well as we go about making real and significant change," said Clark, who moderated the panel.
Said Palvetzian: "Anything that is going to be a priority for society needs to have focused attention and shared belief in action by both genders."
'The token woman'
Pamela Palmater, the chair in Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, brought up concerns about female employees being seen as "the token woman," especially in male-dominated fields.
She said women in such roles may be held to a higher standard or given less responsibility than their male counterparts.
"Their fear, or their insecurities, or their lack of understanding, shouldn't put us on a path where we're on this endless treadmill to overachieve, and overachieve, and really forget about what it is that we're doing," she said.
She also said municipalities can help support reconciliation by taking action to transfer power, wealth and land to Indigenous groups instead of continuing to hold consultations.