Carleton University's Clare Beckton Empowers Women to Get Involved in Politics

How do we get more girls and women involved in politics?

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This is a question that is near and dear to my heart. Being born and raised in Ottawa, I am very familiar with Canada’s political landscape. From my experience, one key strategy to increase women’s participation in government is through connecting with mentors. For example, at an event in 2014, I had the privilege to hear the Hon. Michelle Rempel, MP, speak. Afterwards, I realized that I was the only young woman under the age of 50 in the room. I emailed her after sharing that fact, and she called me. Over our chat, she empowered me to be the change I wish I to see in the world. Since then, I have been driven to get more involved in politics and encourage other girls and women to stand tall and be change agents too.

To continue the conversation, I invited a mentor from my alma mater, Carleton University, to speak with us about her mission to help women lead change.

Clare Beckton, BA LLB MPA, is the author of Own-it Your Success, Your Future, Your Life. Clare is the founding Executive Director of the Carleton University Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership; there, she facilitates leading-edge research initiatives and women’s leadership programs to advance women in leadership roles. She is a former senior executive in the Government of Canada, where her roles included head of the Status of Women Canada and Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Aboriginal Affairs, with Justice Canada.

(c) Clare Beckton

(c) Clare Beckton

To read more of Clare’s impressive bio, check out her website and follow her on Twitter.

Hi Clare! Thank you for being at The Self-Discovery Retreat. Let’s dive in. Many women avoid politics for fear of debate. What advice would you have for someone with that fear? 

Women avoid politics for many reasons. True, some may not like the rough and tumble of politics and the need to ignore the slings and arrows thrust in their direction. As in many other situations, women tend to wait to be asked to run for office instead of putting their hand up for what they want.  Family responsibilities can be a challenge, but many women with families have successfully sought office and made significant contributions when elected.

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Fear may be holding you back. Most of us have fears of some kind. First recognize your fear and decide if you want to let it hold you back. A passion to make a difference on important social and economic issues can help you in making the decision to put your fear aside and take the chance to run for office. Take the opportunity to prepare for debate by joining an organization where you can hone your debating and public speaking skills. Acquiring these skills will make you more confident. Talk with other women who have successfully overcome their fears and run for office; they can give you good advice and help you garner courage. Finally, build a network of supporters who are there when you have a bad day and need encouragement. Guidelines for seeking office can be found on both Equal Voice and the Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership’s websites. These guidelines can help you to both make your decision and navigate the process.

How do you practice self-care in your busy life?

Self-care is vital. It is a truism that you cannot look after others well if you do not look after yourself.  Start with the assumptions that you are worthy of assigning some “me” time in your day and week and you should never feel guilty about it.  We women have a habit of putting ourselves last which can be detrimental to our health and mental well-being. Guilt plays a part, but with practice we can put the guilt on the backburner to give ourselves care.

Find something that makes you feel good ­- exercise, quiet time, yoga, meditation, coffee with a friend – and build it into your day and week. Ask for help from those around you if necessary. You do not have to do everything yourself. When our children were young, my husband and I took turns going for our run in the morning. Exercise helped me, along with a good diet, to manage demanding leadership roles and a family.

How has a positive mindset influenced your work and home life?

A positive mindset is essential to mental well-being. If I can see the possibilities in even the toughest situations, I will be able to navigate through them. In addition, I know that choosing to be positive allows me to achieve more because I believe that I can achieve instead of allowing negative thoughts to influence and hold me back. I meet many people who wallow in their negativity and are unhappy and stuck.  Does this mean looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses? For me, the answer is clearly ‘no!’ I see the challenges, and with a positive approach I can find the opportunities as well.  You can make the choice to put aside negativity and take on the world by believing in your possibilities.

How do you cope with negative self-talk?

Negative self- talk is something we women do well. The little voice in our heads is often telling us we are not able to do something, we should be afraid, we made a stupid decision, and on and on. My technique is to stop the thought as quickly as I can and replace it with a positive one. For example, ‘my question was stupid’ becomes ‘my question caused other people to think or was no different than anybody else’s questions,’ etc. Another is to say maybe it was not the best question and I am proud of myself for having the courage to ask that question in this audience. You get the idea.  Do not let the talk continue. With time, it will be much easier to stop the negative self-talk.

(c) Arianna Merritt. A picture of all the women attending Women's Campaign School 2016 at the BC Legislative Assembly.

(c) Arianna Merritt. A picture of all the women attending Women's Campaign School 2016 at the BC Legislative Assembly.

What is your number one productivity tip?

My productivity tip is to understand the difference between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ and to spend most of your day focused on the high value work. Identify what will enable you to achieve your goals and the goals of the organization. Too often I see leaders and teams becoming mired in the day-to-day and urgent, and losing sight of what really matters. At this point, they lose their effectiveness as a leader or team. Understanding important work requires you to know the vision and priorities of your organization. How will any work advance those priorities and the vision? What is valued in your organization?

Why is it important to dress for success?

People tend to make quick judgments about other people, and how they are dressed influences them. While we may not agree with how people can judge us, wearing situation-appropriate dress is often important to create a positive impression to get to the next step of demonstrating your competence.  Inappropriate dress can distract from the substance of your presentation or qualifications. Appropriate dress depends on the sector too. No one really expects tech entrepreneurs to be wearing a suit, but in the world of finance this will be different.  Unfortunately, women are often still judged more harshly so dressing appropriately does help open the door.

Many entrepreneurs are currently being faced with the struggle of people wanting free advice and free services. What insight would you have for them?

Yes, expectations for free advice do abound. As a consultant, you should be clear about your parameters. I may choose to give pro bono advice to attract more business from one organization or simply because it is a volunteer organization which could not afford my advice.  You need to define the value you bring to the table and not be afraid to decline free advice requests where it does not advance your work. Establish guidelines for yourself about giving pro bono advice.  Being modest about your skills and value to clients and customers will not advance your interests as a consultant.  At times it seems a contradiction, but organizations do not necessarily appreciate pro bono advice. Paying for advice appears to make it of greater value.

Thanks, Clare, for being at The Self-Discovery Retreat. Your presence has empowered us all to push past the obstacles on our paths and stand tall!

Upon reflection of our conversation, I found one insight really stood out to me: “As in many other situations, women tend to wait to be asked to run for office instead of putting their hand up for what they want.”  How true, Clare! We need to help fellow women put their hands up for what they want in all arenas of life!   

My favourite part of getting involved in politics is the amazing people you meet and the friendships you build. These connections have changed my life.

Want to get more involved in politics? Or, do you have a story you would like to share about finding a community that helps you rise? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below. We can all learn from one another!