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Turning #MeToo into a tangible shift for female leaders

Christy Clark was the premier of British Columbia from 2011 to 2017

To women who have come forward to report: Thank you. All of us who have experienced a sexual assault or harassment know it is a damn hard thing to talk about.

The #MeToo movement is giving women space to speak about those individual experiences, but it is also getting us all talking about a larger picture: sex-based discrimination that pervades workplaces in all walks of life. Sexual harassment, pay inequality, the glass ceiling: They are all connected.

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I have been involved in politics for more than 30 years – as a volunteer, a staffer and a politician. Over those years, I saw plenty of men behaving badly. It made me promise myself that I would do things differently should I ever get the chance to lead.

I am the first woman ever to be elected premier of British Columbia, and the longest-serving female premier in Canadian history. Our Speaker was a woman, our government caucus chair was a woman and our lieutenant-governor was a woman. The first two female attorneys-general in B.C. history were appointed. Our 125,000+ civil service, Finance Ministry and largest Crown corporation were run by women, and more than a third of our government board appointees were women. The proportion of women in cabinet has been increasing. Even though female ministers must endure the sting of being seen by some as quota-fillers, the numbers – and the attention paid to them – really do matter.

Why? Because each of us is the product of our own life experiences, and the experiences that women bring with them to work are different from those of men.

Men and women both care about childcare, elder care and discrimination. But we talk about them differently because our experiences have been different.

Women are more likely to have been the primary caregivers to children, more likely to have shouldered the responsibility of caring for aging parents, more likely to have spent our working lives being underestimated and underpaid, and more likely to have been sexually harassed.

Men care about those issues, but women are far more likely to have lived them. If you put women in the rooms where decisions are made, those experiences will change conversations. Hearing the perspectives women bring transforms the way men think about us. Respect grows.

There are lots of things we need to do to make workplaces more equal, but none are more important than putting more women in positions where they will be heard.

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In the political realm, that means electing more of us. Yes, make sure they are qualified – not every woman is better just because she is female – but if she is smart and capable, give her the chance to lead.

Political parties need to work harder to find great women to run for office. Parties that are in opposition have the best chance to make this happen – they have more "open" seats, where there is no incumbent. Find great women and run them in the sure-bet ridings.

First ministers: Don't load up your offices and your senior civil service with men. A gender-balanced cabinet does not mean as much if the bureaucrats who do the heavy lifting are almost all men.

For young women who are just getting started today: Your mothers and grandmothers made huge strides for women and you will reap those benefits. But the fight against workplace discrimination is not won yet. Most of you are still destined to be underestimated, underpaid and sometimes disrespected because of your gender.

We are watching history being made right now. Women are stepping forward to claim their right to be treated with respect. My hope is that we can translate this moment into permanent change.

That is going to require that a new crop of women decide, not just to make their voices heard in the media, but that they want to lead.

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It is not easy, but no job in the world lets you make as much positive change as you can in politics.

You'll have to grow a tough hide, your social-media feeds will get downright ugly, you will be judged on a different standard than men, but you will be getting stuff done. Making a difference. Doing the best job you can with quiet determination. Pushing on through the criticism. Isn't that always the way women usually get it done?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he takes a harassment claim about a Saskatchewan NDP MP “very seriously.” Singh says Erin Weir will be temporarily suspended from his duties while an independent investigation takes place. The Canadian Press
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