Looking at female representation during the Students’ Union elections: The future (might just be) female

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Photo by Jackie Vang

For the 2018-2019 school year, the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union had only one female on their board of directors. The year before — despite adversity they may have faced — they had four.

This year, women are being represented at the forefront of elections season; out of the four presidential candidates, one is Klaudia Wojtanowski, a BBA student with previous experience as a director on the board as well as her current role, an undergraduate representative on the board of governors.

The lone female who ran for a board of governors’ position for this current year, Wojtanowski is the first female presidential candidate Laurier has had since 2015, when Olivia Matthews won the race for 2015-2016 president.

Along with a female presidential candidate, five female candidates are running for board of directors — Lana Toameh, the single female director last year, will not be running for re-election; however new candidates Devyn Kelly, Julia Pereira, Karneet Chahal, Saloni Sharma and Stephanie Higgs are all looking to be female representations on the board for the upcoming year. Sharma and Chahal are also running for positions on the senate.

Other than the chair and vice chair of the board, this year the board was made up of 10 directors with only one being female. 12 candidates are running for positions as directors, meaning that over one-third of candidates are female, and the upcoming year could potentially see an increase in female representation on the board, as this year only one-tenth were.

“I think that last year was really hard hitting for me, being one of two females that ran for over 30 positions, and it was not only a shock but also a realization across the board of seeing how women were treated at the board table in such a public setting,” Wojtanowski said, speaking on her past and current roles within the board of directors and board of governors.

“If they decide to take a stand, especially somewhere publicly like in elections, that makes it more representative of Laurier too.”

“By running in elections, and The Cord running that story, I think it inspired a lot of women to run this year, to show that we can do it and we deserve a seat at the table.”

Out of 17,000 undergraduate students, over 9,300 identify as females, according to Common University Data Ontario, so approximately 54 per cent of students are female; yet only one director for the 2018-2019 school year was a representation for the female population.

“11 people who identify as male, and one female, that’s not representative of the student body at Laurier, we don’t need mandatory requirements for gender for the board, it’s not necessary, but we do want a fair chance, and it’s amazing that we have so many females running for director positions this year,” Wojtanowski said.

“Of course, I’m the one female presidential candidate out of the four, but we haven’t even had a female presidential candidate since Olivia Matthews ran, so it’s been a while since we’ve even had a candidate.”

Last year, with Director Toameh being the only woman to run for a board position, it was a decrease from the five candidates who ran the previous year.

Wojtanowski was also the only female to run for a position on the board of governors.

“Females do get scrutinized in a different way. A lot of people are diverse in gender or of colour, and it’s a different perspective that people take. It’s really awesome to see that people took that to heart and thought that it’s not representative, it’s not fair, and I can’t speak for what they thought but they just believed in their own ability,” Wojtanowski said.

“You have that tendency just to doubt yourself that little bit extra than some of your male counterparts and looking at the university landscape and what positions can be achieved at the university, the board has done a great job representing all students no matter their gender, and I want to make that clear.”

This year’s five female candidates are an increase from last year, but in the last five years no more than five females candidates have ever run for board of directors positions, with the elected number being even lower than five.

“Other women need representation like that, to see that it’s possible, and that’s where it makes an impact, we have so many amazing female leaders on this campus,” Wojtanowski said.

“If they decide to take a stand, especially somewhere publicly like in elections, that makes it more representative of Laurier too.”

“The more diversity that we have on our board, in our students’ union, the better we can function as an organization because we’re taking into account different people’s stories and backgrounds from wherever they come from,” she said.

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