U.S. election highlights barriers women in leadership face
Bokhari, who spent three years as leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, knows all too well the hurdles Clinton has faced over the course of the political campaign.
“Almost everyone is focused on the U.S election and for good reason,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “While there have been female presidents and prime ministers in many other countries, it is very possible that Clinton may be the first female president of the U.S.
“However, this has been a difficult campaign against Clinton and it’s worth examining if some of the criticisms lobbied against her would be said about a man,” she adds.
Clinton has been criticized for her lack of likeability — her voice has been described by some in the media as “nagging” and “screechy,” her laugh is called a “cackle” and her smile is compared to a “creepy grandma” grin. Bokhari says throughout her career in politics she was criticized for smiling too much and appearing too young but at the same time was criticized once for not being “sociable” enough. “There is so much mixed messaging,” she says.
When it comes to assertiveness and aggressiveness, women in leadership roles are frequently viewed differently than their male counterparts.
“An assertive and aggressive man is often seen as powerful, whereas an aggressive woman is called a bully or bossy, which has negative connotations. The qualities that are seen as positive for a man become negative for women,” says Bokhari, a partner with boutique firm Bokhari, Smith & Walker.
“In order to become successful at that level, a person generally has some Type A personality traits but those are negative if you’re a woman it seems,” she says.
Even a woman’s experience, credentials and competency are called into question in a way that’s different from a man.
Throughout the election campaign, some have credited Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, for her success in politics, while they continually question her merit. In the same breath, Clinton is also blamed for her husband’s failures in a lose-lose situation. During the televised debates, Republican nominee Donald Trump denigrated Clinton’s experience by saying she’s done “nothing” in her 30-year career.
Bokhari says she’s all too familiar with the various barriers facing women in politics.
“When I started leading the Manitoba Liberal Party, I was 35 — which was viewed as extremely young. I often heard that I would be ‘ready’ in 10 years’ time. I’m a visible minority and a farm kid, so I wasn’t entrenched in the establishment, which was one of my greatest challenges.”
She says even if Clinton does become the next U.S. next president, the discussion around sexist language, mixed messaging and double standards needs to continue.
“I want females to succeed and I believe powerful women in high-ranking positions add value to our world,” she says.”There are so many young women watching this election.”
Bokhari looks to successful women to help smooth the way for younger generations.
“I honestly think that mentorship is one of the greatest gifts an experienced woman, regardless of age, can give to a younger woman,” she says. “Women need to see other women succeed in powerful roles in order to believe they can achieve the same heights.
“I wish I knew some of the things I know now when I started out,” Bokhari says. “Hopefully as we continue to break barriers, women will walk into positions of leadership with more support.”