June 17, 2019

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Looking for a breakthrough

It’s no longer an Old Boys club, but glass ceiling remains at city hall

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/7/2015 (1420 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The glass ceiling may be cracking, but city hall still has a few benchmarks to pass before it can argue it’s completely broken for women in municipal politics.

A woman sits on Mayor Brian Bowman’s executive policy committee, a woman sits as the speaker, and for the first time since 1998, a quarter of councillors are women.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi is the longest-serving councillor at city hall, and said things haven’t improved much since she was elected in 1998 as councillor in Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry, but she remains hopeful it will.

She recalls back in 1998 while in line to enter the chamber on her day of inauguration, a male city councillor made a “significantly demeaning” comment, which prompted her to send a letter to the unnamed councillor stating she expected to be treated with the same respect as any of the councillors would be treated.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/7/2015 (1420 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The glass ceiling may be cracking, but city hall still has a few benchmarks to pass before it can argue it’s completely broken for women in municipal politics.

A woman sits on Mayor Brian Bowman’s executive policy committee, a woman sits as the speaker, and for the first time since 1998, a quarter of councillors are women.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi is the longest-serving councillor at city hall, and said things haven’t improved much since she was elected in 1998 as councillor in Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry, but she remains hopeful it will.

She recalls back in 1998 while in line to enter the chamber on her day of inauguration, a male city councillor made a "significantly demeaning" comment, which prompted her to send a letter to the unnamed councillor stating she expected to be treated with the same respect as any of the councillors would be treated.

"I haven’t seen a lot of change; we happen to have four women on council, which is a positive change," she said, acknowledging the new mayor has brought a more positive attitude. "As we know, for the last 10 years there have been challenges in the workplace, being disrespectful and the bullying that has been tolerated."

Of the 59 candidates who ran in last year’s civic election, only nine were women.

"When I was first elected, people would say to me, ‘Why do you want to go to that place? It is a total Old Boys club,’ and I thought being a mother of three, a nurse, I thought maybe I’ll bring a different type of person to city council," Gerbasi said.

After extensive research, the United Nations concluded 30 per cent is the minimal percentage of women required in government for women’s concerns to be met; a benchmark Winnipeg has never been able to meet.

There hasn’t been enough significant research at the municipal level to conclude exactly why women aren’t choosing to run for municipal politics, said Angelia Wagner, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta, who has studied women in municipal elections.

Wagner notes research has pointed to men being more socialized to think about a career in politics or are more confident to run for office regardless of their financial or personal situation.

Winnipeg City Councillors Janice Lukes (left), Jenny Gerbasi (right) and  Devi Sharma (centre). (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Winnipeg City Councillors Janice Lukes (left), Jenny Gerbasi (right) and Devi Sharma (centre). (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

"There are some differences in terms of attitude," she said. "But we really don’t know enough about what is holding them back."

The importance in bridging this gap is one that shouldn’t be ignored, she said. For example, women have different views and needs on important areas dealt with at the municipal level such as public transit or economic development, she said.

"Women have a particular set of needs and interests in a wide range of policy areas, so we need to have that perspective brought on to municipal council," Wagner said.

Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) is the first woman to be elected Speaker at city hall. She says the obvious goal is to completely break the glass ceiling, but the right step forward is having women in visible roles such as Speaker.

"It is an exciting role, and when young women see others in different roles, different sectors it makes them want to strive and the glass ceiling is that much higher, or hopefully it is broken in certain areas, the goal is to have it completely gone," Sharma said.

Meanwhile, within Bowman’s inner circle, Coun. Janice Lukes sits as the lone female member of his EPC and is also chairwoman of infrastructure and public works.

As a woman, she feels equally treated at city hall, and argues she can easily shut down anyone who tries to use her being a woman to question her ability.

"Being the chair of public works is interesting, so I will say I have had some encounters where I feel the, ‘Oh you’re a woman, what do you know?’ " she said, laughing at the absurdity of the idea.

It’s an attitude she says she quickly shuts down through her passion and extensive knowledge on everything within her complex file.

Rookie Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) acknowledged that as a mother of two children, in the midst of separating from her husband, she had to make sure she had a support system in place before felt she could commit to such a time-consuming job.

"For me, it is the work balance that is difficult; you have to be on call with your family, and then you are on call with the citizens, and I think it is balancing those priorities that might scare women away," Gilroy said.

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 11:25 AM CDT: Video added.

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