The following speech was loosely given at a celebration of International Women's Day 2017 in Kaitaia.
So, I’m going to start with a bold statement:
If there were more women in key political positions, I do not believe the world would be in the state that it is in.
Now, I need to say at the onset that this is not a speech about which gender is better – what I firmly believe is – it’s about balance.
In my 2015 speech for International Women’s day I noted: finding balance between the sexes….this to me means recognising and respecting what the opposites bring to the whole. Whether it be masculine and feminine, night and day, hot and cold…
So, the theme this year is ‘Be Bold for Change’. With a key goal to help forge a better working world – a more inclusive, gender equal world.
I have to say, politics is a great place to be if you want to drive change.
Today, I have been asked to speak on the pros and cons as a career of being a women in politics.
So here’s my personal perspective …I’m going to start with the cons – tougher but shorter list.
Professionally, I don’t think there are really any cons in having more women in political positions – in fact I absolutely encourage it as we are currently not well represented.
Here’s a few stats:
Now on a personal level, it’s a bit of a different story.
There is some juggling – in my case I have an almost six year old daughter, who I co-parent with her dad, having Jesse with me every second week. So for that one week I am it – which means I need to work work around schooling and after school activities, and generally try and maintain a routine, in a work world where there is no real routine. It has taken a bit of time to get this balance right, and I still don’t always. Fortunately, I have a really strong bond with my girl and she seems to generally cope with the occasion meeting attendance.
Another con is that there aren’t many people I can confide in and it can feel a bit lonely at times. There are many times when I have left meetings completely frustrated, however, it’s something you don’t tend to share (there are also many meetings where I leave feeling on a real high!).
For one thing lots of people don’t get ‘my world’ or have a real perception of what’s involved and secondly, and more importantly, it’s just not professional or part of my make-up.
You learn to really value trust and this takes time to build, and at times doesn’t eventuate but that’s all part of growing wisdom and acting wisely.
Of course, one of the clearly perceived cons is being a woman in a man’s world. And yes, as indicated earlier, nationally it is a heavily dominated male environment. In fact, there is a saying within the industry – one that captures the reality, somewhat disrespectfully….male, stale, frail and pale…keeping in mind that it is the people of NZ that put them there.
Although I rarely come across it these days, there are many examples of women in politics (and many other lines of work) having to deal with inappropriate comments, undermining, suggestions, approaches that really are quite unacceptable.
I think it’s also important to recognise that there can be disharmony amongst women in politics as well. I’m not going to go into that today. I will say that I am honoured to work alongside the FNDC women, who I have an ever growing respect for.
Next there’s the issue of being taken seriously on a professional level. It’s not something I tend to encounter around our council table, however, I am aware of numerous examples of women’s ideas and approaches being undermined in various ways.
But lets be real here – this is not isolated to politics – this is quite universal.
So, although there are other cons, including the average pay, lets move on to the pros. And reflect on the theme once more:
Be Bold for Change!
So if you really want to make a difference on a larger scale, politics is a really cool place to be.
For me personally, I decided to run for local government because on having worked within the council environment, I realised the only way to make real change was to get into a position of real influence.
I am a great fan of local government and in no way support it’s demise, however, I also recognise that Councils across NZ have been operating in pretty much the same fundamental ways for decades and I believe, we need to seriously review the way we do things.
And now is the time. We are on the cusp of change, and although still quite slow moving I am seeing changes in thinking and approaches. On a world scale – something is going to give and this will have ramifications for us here in NZ.
And this is the power of being in politics. On building credibility, you can have the ability to make a real difference in your community, your district, your region. And sometimes this is as simple as bringing a voice to the unheard, supporting the seemingly forgotten or encouraging the game changers to continue to be magnificent.
On a larger scale, it is being able to influence direction, working alongside other game changers.
Women bring a unique approach to politics. And I think what is really important is that more and more women can be ‘women’ in politics. There was potentially a time that a women needed to behave more like a ‘man’ to make it in the industry.
Women tend to be less ego driven (but not always), which can get in the way of good decision making. They generally have strong community empathy and are driven by different motivators to men. Women can also be fiercely competitive but potentially for different reasons.
They are used to putting others before them and I believe, have a fair sense of equality and reason. When going in to politics many women make huge sacrifices on their personal time and commitments. So they don’t tend to undertake the journey unless they are passionately committed to their strong sense of value and understanding of what they believe will make the world a better place. They are wives, partners, mothers, grandmothers, daughters – thus they have an invested interest in a better tomorrow…
And these are some of the reasons why I believe the world would be a different place if we had more women in power.
On a personal note, a real pro of being in local government is the satisfaction and sense of achievement that can come in seeing something come to fruition. I have already sowed many seeds and I have seen some of those seeds grow strongly and although I don’t always get the recognition (which is okay), I know that I played a part in making a difference in a positive way.
Another pro for me personally, is the growth in self. I am so not the person I was when I first became elected. I am stronger, more resilient, have perspective and a clear understanding of my life purpose. I can say I am a leader and actually believe it, because I know my motivations are in the right places.
That’s not to say I haven’t had challenges – oh my goodness no. This last week alone has been a prime example. But I am grateful for it. As I have learned from the experience. I have grown up in a very short space of time, and although a little bruised they will heal and set me in good stead for future confrontations. Because, at the end of the day it’s not personal. These people don’t ‘know’ me.
And if I plan to be Bold for Change – which I do, then I am bound to upset a few more people along the way. Not intentionally of course. My goal is always for the greater good.
I also want to add here, that I have chosen not to fight the ‘old school’ male approach to politics. I just don’t see the value in it. I have learnt that a ‘leopard generally doesn’t change ‘his’ spots’, so my approach is to lead by example, ignore the unnecessary comments (half the time they don’t even realise they are doing it – it is so ingrained) and simply be a professional.
I am also heartened by the many, many men in politics that are completely embracing of women and treat me as an equal. And note, this is a two way thing. I have to be responsible and accountable for my own actions. As at the end of the day, my credibility comes from how I choose to interact and perform as an individual.
I realise that I can achieve far more by being professional, proactive, and fight the good fight rather than putting my energy into something that can only get me off side. As one must never forget there is a game to be played, although I do my best not to play it.
That’s not to say I tolerate disrespect – sometimes I just choose to ignore it – well file it away anyway.
So to make it in this world of politics (and not become bitter, twisted and burnt out). One must have a very strong sense of purpose – which must hold the community at its heart. One needs to find balance and stand up for this balance – you are not owned by the district – you are a human being too.
One needs to have a strong but probably small network of confidants to support and encourage you. And you must build resilience, learn very much to choose your battles, and keep all things in perspective – hard that this can be at times.
But I think most importantly as a woman, one needs to embrace our femininity –as this is a real and tangible strength. Because we women offer deep wisdom, strong character and an uncompromising sense of belief in our children, wanting a better world in a currently unbalanced one.
And thus, we need to support and encourage each other. Recognise that we will not always agree but that we completely understand that at the heart of the matter is building a better tomorrow for our children’s children. A legacy that we can be proud of, share in and celebrate.