We keep hearing that there is a shortage of women leaders, in Canada and internationally, and the statistics do not lie.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, in her TEDWomen talk about “Why we have too few women leaders,” quoted that of 190 heads of state in the world, only 9 are women. In parliament globally, only 13% are women, and in the corporate world it hovers around 15-16% and has not changed for a decade.
The timeless question is, “What can we do as a nation to change this?”
As a university-educated woman who is now in an executive leadership position of the non-profit AIESEC Canada, I still find these statistics hard to believe – especially since the leadership of my organization goes against these statistics.
Currently, the President of AIESEC International, leading a total membership of 60,000 students, is a woman. In AIESEC Canada, half of the national executive team is made up of women, myself included. Of the 28 universities AIESEC Canada is based in, 15 of the local presidents are women.
Clearly AIESEC is sitting above the average when it comes to women in leadership positions.
So what is AIESEC doing to foster female leadership?
AIESEC has existed internationally for over 60 years. For the past 5 years, AIESEC has been on the WorldBlu List of most democratic organizations. Its members have the freedom to take opportunities, say their perspectives and vote for their leaders. With a work environment driven by equal opportunities, women have been able to apply and run for top leadership positions.
Of the 110 countries that AIESEC is present in, approximately 40% of the national teams are run by women. AIESEC in countries such as China, India, and Iran – whose societies are traditionally less receptive to female leadership – have women as their presidents.
Women are also more likely to take on leadership positions in an environment that allows their leadership qualities to flourish. Female leadership is based on strong interpersonal skills, the team experience and taking risks. AIESEC is a great place to build these skills as a non-profit, youth run organization that is focused on providing business and leadership experiences to students and recent graduates. The mission and structure of the organization allows the characteristics of female leadership to be used and developed, and allow women to feel comfortable in leadership roles.
AIESEC is based out of universities globally, where the membership is based of current students or recent graduates. The post-secondary level is the perfect atmosphere to cultivate female leadership.
According to Statistics Canada, 57% of the student body in universities is female. In extra-curricular activities such as AIESEC, it is a norm to have women in leadership roles. When these students graduate and start to enter the workforce, they will expect it to be the same way.
Claudia Wong, 22, has taken on multiple leadership roles in AIESEC while studying at the University of British Columbia. She is currently working as AIESEC Canada’s VP Organizational Development. “Stereotypical traits that women possess, like sociability and sensitivity, are not seen as important in leadership. This leads women to being viewed less positively than men for leadership positions,” says Claudia. “However, with my experience in AIESEC I have learned that these traits are absolutely necessary to balance different working styles in a workplace. It is even more important in a non-profit organization based on the work of volunteers.”
It is imperative that we teach both male and female students the benefits of female leadership before they hit the workplace. Whether this happens in the classroom or outside of it through extracurricular activities should not matter, but the post-secondary level is the most important place to do it. The next generation of leaders is being developed in universities, and we need this change to happen sooner rather than later.
For over 50 years, AIESEC Canada has been facilitating their Global Internship Program in Canada and abroad for companies, students and recent grads.