Cartoon by Sharon Murdoch. From http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/cartoon/34045/prime-minister-helen-clark-breaking-the-glass-ceiling
For decision making to take in a comprehensive range of perspectives and ideals our governing body needs to be a fair representation of the population they are making decisions for. Unfortunately for New Zealand, we are being over-represented by older white males with a privileged background. This means we are not benefiting from a strong pool of different ideas, experiences and hopes for the future. I am statistically the average Hamilton (who is in their early thirties, with a young family) and this would make me a great candidate standing for what matters to us.
With only 16% of the candidates for the 2016 HCC elections being female – it’s fair to say it’s an unbalanced race, gender wise. However because females putting their hand up are more likely to be voted in, I think we’ll see an elected rate of 30-40% come in for Hamilton when votes are counted. This aligns pretty much with what is happening everywhere else in NZ. However, no matter how you look at it 16% is a pretty sad statistic when we have so many females with lots to offer out there.
So… I guess this leads to you asking me the question. Why aren’t you running this time?
To be honest, I wish I hadn’t pulled out. Because, once I did – I realised that the roadblocks holding me back from running this term are similar reasons other women don’t stand and I would like to have been able to set an example of “just doing it anyway”. The biggest fears I personally had were in executing a good campaign – which involves self promotion, going outside of my comfort zone and money.
Females in particular have a really bad habit, of not backing ourselves, not putting ourselves first and playing down achievements. We can be our own worst enemy. It felt that every time I told someone I was running, that I would automatically follow it up by putting myself down. This personal characteristic certainly gets in the way of appearing confident which is needed to gain trust. While the average person might not be as self deprecating as I am – no matter who you are – learning to back yourself against adversity is a skill, and one I have to learn.
The main thing I ruminated on was my perceived lack of ability with public speaking and small talk especially to people I was meeting for the first time. While the role of the Councillor is to advocate for those you represent (which involves being a good listener) there is also an element of needing to be an effective/persuasive oral communicator. I found myself hearing confident speakers and understanding how they get votes even if their ideas are stupid. Look at Trump. A prime example of how the gift of the gab (and money) can get you into positions you are not necessarily the best for. Given an opportunity I would naturally shy away from public speaking though have experience of doing so effectively in previous roles. I just didn’t give myself enough credit for what I am good at and focused on the negative.
Aside from the dangers of overthinking; which can influence the decision for women to stand we are more likely to be the one who juggles the family’s schedule. We can struggle to ask to take time out from the family to put our own needs and wants first without feeling guilty. We’re also more likely to pick a sick kid up from school or cancel our own plans / commitments if required. We have the fear of being a “bad Mum” hovering over our heads daily.
Family and personal characteristics aside – the decision to campaign is a big one financially. It costs $200 to put your name forward – but thousands to advertise to give yourself a good chance of being elected. The average Hamiltonian ends up (if they do at all) voting for the name they SAW the most during election time – which usually favours incumbents and those with money. For me, I was concerned with the risk of losing the money we put into the campaign. Yes you can look at it as an investment, but you can also look at it as $2000+ you’ll never see again. Most people don’t have that money lying around.
So, what would make it easier for women to run? Support. We should be talking about politics as a career or community focussed option more – and not just for a few months before an election. I would like to see a support/network group initiated for women who would like to venture into politics. It would be extremely beneficial to be able to talk to other local, civically/politically minded people about the system and topics of the day and build networks that would ultimately lead to a more collaborative, well balanced and representative governing body.
Fortunately a group that does this exists – and it’s called Women in Politics. Please check out the website or their facebook page.