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Viewpoints: We need to seriously review the status of women in our profession

May 29, 2018 Shannon Dube, President, Fort McMurray Local No 48

In May I had an amazing opportunity to attend the Canadian Teachers’ Federation Women’s Symposium in Prince Edward Island. The theme was “Women and Union Leadership.”

I learned of the conference from Edmonton Public local president Heather Quinn and was immediately intrigued. I was a woman in a leadership role! I figured I could undoubtedly learn something to bring back to my local in Fort McMurray.

And learn I did! I met amazing women from all over Canada who taught me about fierce and passionate leadership. While I could list off all the sessions I attended and provide an inventory of things I learned, I instead want to focus on one thing: women. Yes, women.

Women make up the majority of the teaching profession in Alberta. As of 2015, 74 per cent of us were women. I bring this up because I learned at the symposium that most teacher organizations in Canada have a status of women committee. But the Alberta Teachers’ Association does not. Yet.

I have seen the idea brought up multiple times at our Annual Representative Assembly (ARA), only to be defeated. This year I was extremely happy to see an increase to the budget of the Diversity, Equity and Human Rights (DEHR) Committee so it could form a subcommittee related to the status of women.

Why is this important or relevant in 2018? Consider this: even though, in 2015, 74 per cent of Alberta teachers were women, only 41 per cent of principals and 18 per cent of superintendents were women. Currently within the ATA, 47 per cent of Provincial Executive Council members are women, as are 45 per cent of local presidents and 32 per cent of executive staff.

Your first reaction may be that this seems really great. After all, some of those figures are approaching 50 per cent. However, I believe that the highest levels of leadership should more accurately reflect the overall membership.

We need to work together, all of us, women and men, to get more women into leadership

Currently in the education sector, women involved in leadership tend to fall into two distinct categories: those without children and those whose children are grown. This isn’t representative of the diversity embodied in our female teachers. For myriad reasons, women who don’t fall into these categories have been largely unable to attain leadership positions — perhaps because of family obligations, or not seeing other women like themselves in leadership positions, or not being encouraged or supported to take on leadership roles.

These members need to see women of various demographic and domestic descriptions in leadership so they can gain the confidence that they can do it too, so that they have role models and mentors to help them make the leap themselves. In a profession in which more than 74 per cent of the members are women, we need to work together, all of us, women and men, to get more women into leadership, so we can say that, as an association, we have proportional representation, not underrepresentation.

At the symposium I also learned that the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario allocates six per cent of its budget to women’s programs. They have programs called Women in Action and Leaders for Tomorrow, and they also do parliamentarian training. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

As I mentioned previously, almost all teacher organizations in Canada have a status of women committee: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Nunavut. More provinces have such a committee than don’t. And sadly, Alberta is not on the list.

While I am very proud to be a member of this association, as I am sure many of my colleagues are, I would be even more proud if we established a status of women committee. The DEHR subcommittee I mentioned earlier is a great start, but hopefully one day we can take it a step further and give the issue the higher profile it deserves.

This is one issue where we need work, loud and passionate voices, and financial support. One day we could be the organization we have the potential to be, in all areas.

So, at next year’s ARA, when you see a resolution about the status of women, think twice before speaking against it. Think about the statistics listed above. We all need to support the women in this profession. We need them. ❚

This opinion column represents the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

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