Friday, June 11, 2010

Bee in my bonnet re: suits, hair & leadership

It's funny how one thing builds on another and you start to see connections everywhere. This morning, I had coffee with two trustee candidates, both women. I mentioned the upcoming "Equal Voice" workshop on supporting women in the election (see previous blog). Conversation naturally flowed to the ASBA Trustee Candidate School recently in Red Deer and what had been shared and learned. I was, I admit it, appalled to hear about the session on how to dress. Granted, I didn't hear the entire lecture, so I may be taking things out of context and this is all second-hand information--- so feel free to contradict or correct me-- but here's what was relayed to me:

Advice on how to dress- with jackets being the preferred dresscode down to cardigans as being "acceptable".
How to do you hair- someone asked if they should cut their long hair and the advice was to close your eyes and picture someone who is in power, "What does their hair look like?"  The answer: "Short, just like yours."

A young woman asked if conforming strictly to business clothing and appearances can sometimes alienate people and make politicians feel less approachable or "real". The answer: "Well, I'm not trying to change the world." In other words, play by the existing rules and you will fare better. It's important to look the part and fit the mold, not to question it.

What a sad, sad message. Should we be perpetuating the exisiting power structures or working to improve them (revolutionize them if necessary), in order to make them more accessible and open to all? Are we that shallow in our thinking that we can't imagine a different dress/hair length/style/cultural clothing being equally as valid and acceptable in an elected official?

Perhaps the question is wrong: rather than think of people in power, we should reflect on inspirational, courageous leaders. With this question, I think of a man in a loin cloth, a mother with a special needs child, an Aboriginal man with a beautiful long braids, a folksinger with a guitar, a child raising money to build wells. There is no "one image" that comes to mind because of course, these are internal qualities: character, courage, generosity, conviction--- and they have nothing to do with hair length or business apparel.

I certainly don't want to see women feel they need to become men in order to assume political positions. I don't want Aboriginal men or women feel the need to become white to join the table.

If I had been at that session, I would have been vibrating out of my seat. This is the wrong message entirely to send to new trustee candidates who are considering assuming a leadership role in their community. Leadership is not how to you look; leadership is being courageous and authentically YOU.  If that means a suit, great. If not, please don't lose who you are to try and fit someone else's mold.

"To thine ownself be true."

And, as a public, we must look beyond the suit and deep into the hearts of our leaders and elect those who are authentic and genuine, not just the ones playing the part well.

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