I miss Sophie Helpard.
Helpard was articulate, smart and hard working. She was also a woman. And as it turns out, you could describe her as a rarity in an unusual year where a female candidate went head-to-head with the boys and won as the University Students' Council president.
At this point, I have, to my chagrin, been around for five USC election cycles. And it is a cycle. Over and over and over again, bright young men vie for and win the USC's highest elected offices. And I applaud them. But each year, my heart also dips. Where are all the bright young women?
We like to call these types of things boys' clubs, but it's really Helpard who's part of a small, exclusive circle. Women made their first breakthrough in the USC in 1976 when Margaret O'Grady won the race for president. Since O'Grady, though, only five other female presidents followed suit, the most recent being Helpard three years ago.
Unless things shake out today, this year will feature a grand total of zero female candidates for the president and vice-president positions. I should mention the Gazette is not exempt from this problem. Since 1976, we've had a paltry nine female editor-in-chiefs — including myself.
I know the issue isn't that women are uninterested or unengaged in trail blazing or the political process; there are many female faculty and club presidents and women in other leadership positions around campus. After all, in 2017, the majority of Western University's student population was female, at 56 per cent.
A lot of smart people have weighed in on this topic, and there seems to be some consensus that one of the issues is support: not trivial, la-di-da support but the fact women suffer from a lack of mentorship and representation in high-level positions.
I know this first-hand. Initially, I grappled with my decision to run for editor-in-chief of the Gazette, given my predecessors were all men. I told myself repeatedly that acting assertively didn't mean I was "bitchy" or an "ice queen." I wrestled with how I could go about being myself, worried it might turn into a balancing act: would I be labelled as cold and calculating or "emotional?" Regardless, I swallowed it all and took the plunge.
So here I am. If you're reading this and you're a woman, I'm not going to say it's easy. I've had men march into my office and tell me the Gazette is shit because of my gender. I've left meetings feeling invisible because eye contact doesn't seem to be reserved for me. These situations aren't the norm, but they do happen. And it sucks.
But it is also so, so worth it. There are a ton of benefits diverse leadership brings to the table: better problem solving and collaboration, with studies suggesting people tend to view female leaders as more ethical and trustworthy. Ultimately, research suggests hiring more women, especially at the higher ranks, is even good for the bottom line. We all win with more women at the table.
When the next female editor thinks about running to be the Gazette's editor-in-chief, I hope she remembers me and that the whole thing is a tiny, little bit easier. Heck, I hope she calls me so we can commiserate.
This is nothing new. We've been talking about female empowerment for decades, and the term glass ceiling is over 30 years old. I don't know what the solution is, but I do know we can't patiently and passively wait and see. This is a plea during my last USC elections that we can do more. We need to experiment wildly and try anything different. Let's start with first-year students, and encourage women to try stepping-stone leadership roles like floor reps, first-year reps or frophs. The USC, the Gazette — all of us — must fight stagnation.
If you're a woman reading this and you're thinking about running to be the USC president one day, I am rooting for you.
Welcome to the girls' club.