Women and Local Politics: Overcoming Barriers to Participation in Leadership
After gender-related concerns surfaced during the 2014 municipal election, the Guelph Chapter of the Confederation of University Women (CFUW) identified the need to increase resources and support for local women pursuing political and public leadership positions. To assist CFUW Guelph in this regard, a group of researchers from the Community Engaged Scholarship Institute set out to identify the barriers that women face to running for leadership roles in the community, and to learn how they can be better supported when doing so. Qualitative research methods were employed to reveal the specific obstacles women experience when running for leadership positions; motivations for being in public office; possible spaces and avenues to increase participation in local politics; and the types of resources needed to assist in their success. A total of 16 interviews were conducted with women who ran for public office, and three focus groups were held with women interested in public leadership. Participants identified numerous barriers to women running for leadership roles that were classified into three groups: institutional, socio-economic, psychological and cultural. In particular, the need for mentoring, support with the changing technological landscape, and a shift in cultural expectations more broadly were deemed necessary solutions to overcoming gender-related barriers. These results, therefore, provided CFUW Guelph with possible methods to support women in the community wanting to stand for leadership positions, and to heighten their participation.