March 28, 2017

After the ‘glass ceiling’ breaks

Lessons from the election season, equal representation doesn’t seem that far away

“We still care, and that’s why it’s important to have women in power, or people of colour in power because representation goes a long way — I still stand for the belief that at the end of the day this is the best candidate for this position because of x, y, and z skills and characteristics and not necessarily about how they identify,” said Jenn Li, AMS president-elect.

Next year, Li will be the first woman AMS President in three years and the first female AMS President of Asian descent in at least the last 28 years.

While having a woman president in the AMS is nothing new, this year’s election was unique for two reasons. For one, regardless of which team won, the AMS president would not only be a woman, but a woman of colour. Additionally, the unsuccessful team, MTW was made up of two women of colour — presidential candidate, Aniqah Mair and Julie Tran — and one man, Landon Wilcock.

In the last 28 years of leadership in the AMS, nine presidents have been women and 19 have been men, making roughly 32 per cent of the last 28 presidents women.

Once Li takes office it will be 35 per cent.

In the last 28 years, roughly 32 per cent of presidents have been female.

In the last 28 years, roughly 32 per cent of presidents have been female. Credit: Rachel Liu

 'A fine line’

When asked about whether she has experienced sexism during her run to the AMS executive, Li expressed some difficulty with deciding in situations whether people were disadvantaged because of the way they identify or if it had to do more with their qualities that didn’t match the needs of the position.
    
“It’s a really fine line between recognizing what people had to overcome to get these positions and then the same amount of preparation has to go in no matter how you identify, whether you are a woman, or LGBTQ2+, or male, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t take away from that.”    

Li continued, adding, “I like working with strong female leaders but I’m just as excited to work with strong male leaders. It doesn’t make a difference, we all have the same goal of making Queen’s better.”

One of the male leaders Li cited being excited to work with was her Vice President Operations-Elect, Brian Mackay. Her other Vice-President, Palmer Lockridge didn’t respond to a request for comment.
    
MacKay has a lot of hope as well as confidence that diversity in the AMS will continue, and that the AMS mandate encourages the need for diversity in the role.
    
“I have read a lot of books on diversity and organization and it’s an asset, it’s never a weakness to have a very diverse workforce, whether it be how they choose to identify their gender, their race, their financial status and it really is about getting diversity of opinions,” MacKay said.

Jenn Li and Brian MacKay celebrate their election to the AMS executive.
Credit: Journal File Photo 
 

A previous president’s experience

While MacKay and Li indicate recent years’ advancements towards breaking the AMS’ glass ceiling, even with Li’s election and the relatively high rate of 35 per cent female presidents, it’s noticeably less than the 61 per cent of women that make up Queens’ undergraduate programs.

And as Li takes on the office this May, she’ll be joining the ranks of previous female presidents, not all of whom have faced the role without backlash.
    
Safiah Chowdhury, AMS president in 2011, faced criticism during her run and time in office because of what she called the intersectionality of her core characteristics — she’s a woman and Muslim.

“I would get pretty misogynistic text messages, to my personal cell phone, which Ben and Chris didn’t receive,” Chowdhury said, referring to her white, male co-executives, Ben Hartley and Chris Rudnicki. “They were never branded as irrational or aggressive. There was definitely a double standard, how they were treated.”

Before running for AMS executive, Chowdhury was prominent on campus working for a number of causes related to her positionality.

“The reason people knew about me around campus was because of other work that I had done already about anti-oppression and equity and so being female was compounded on top of the way that I was already being type-casted at the university,” she said.

The text messages were only one piece of the backlash she received, it started even before her role of president began.

“The Journal at the time had a live blog of the debate and the commentary in the live blogs would often refer to me as angry, as yelling, as aggressive,” Chowdhury recalled.

The front page of The Journal announcing Safiah Chowdhury’s election as AMS president.

The front page of The Journal announcing Safiah Chowdhury’s election as AMS president.
Credit: Journal File Photo
 

For the last eight years in ASUS

Another female representative who’ll be filling a traditionally male-held role next year expressed similar concerns to how Chowdhury described the scrutiny of her behaviour and tone.

Jasmine Lagundzija, ASUS president-elect, will be the first female president of ASUS since Jillian Evans filled the role in 2009, the only female president out of the past eight years.

“There shouldn’t be a quota and we shouldn’t give ourselves a gold star every time there’s a women leader,” Lagundzija said. “But if we don’t see women in leadership, we can’t expect to see it back with the students, whether those leaders are in student government, looking at the deans or even local legislators.”
    
While Lagundzija successfully won the role of president-elect and said she didn’t feel any major concerns over her gender in the role, she noticed small things that cropped up due to the fact that she was female.
    
“When taking the campaign pictures I had to think a lot about it — I didn’t want to be too much of a prude, or too revealing.”

For Lagundzija, it didn’t just come down to clothing, but like Chowdhury, comments regarding her personality.
    
“After the debate I got a lot of feedback and people said I was too aggressive and people said that Jenn [Li] was too passive and they want women to fit in a role that they’ve decided they need to go into. I got told to smile more in the campaign … you become a spokesperson for the lack of women in politics.”

‘Less of an anomaly’

Aniqah Mair, CompSci ’18, ran against Li in the elections this year and is currently the president of the Computing Students’ Association. According to Mair, representation matters, but not necessarily for her.

“I don’t feel like I need to see people who look like me up there, it’s more of a personality thing,” she said. “Obviously, a lot of people talk about the visual representation, so it’s obviously really important to have. Sometimes it can be hard to see yourself in that position, and it’s important to normalize that, the more you see it, it’s less of an anomaly.”

In terms of the role of president itself, Mair echoed the difference in how men and women need to carry themselves in those position.

“I find that I purposefully modify the way I speak, there are some things I do when communicating that are purposeful because I am a woman,” Mair reflected. “For instance, starting off with ‘this might be silly but..’ in order to make my opinions seem a bit more like suggestion and to make things more palatable, just downplaying my confidence in general so that people feel less challenged.”

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