Project supporting women interested in Edmonton politics expands
By revamping the program city hopes to inspire more women to run
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Kasey Machin used to be intimidated by the flurry of activity at City Hall.
“I think the average citizen often just don’t know what it’s about,” she said. “I’ve heard from people that wanted to attend a council meeting but the idea of even just walking in was too intimidating.”
It’s a feeling often amplified for women, Machin adds, a gender consistently underrepresented on both council and upper management in city administration. For example, Coun. Bev Esslinger is currently the only woman on council.
Two years ago Machin joined a city program designed to change that, called Opening the Potential.
The program is a sort of political boot camp for women with an interest in municipal politics that’s been running since 2011.
For Machin, it meant meeting regularly with Coun. Andrew Knack for several months and participating in group sessions.
She said the information she learned was valuable, but so too was "just knowing that there’s other women out there that will have your back and support you.
“It’s demystifying the whole idea of city politics.”
Now the program is getting a revamp, with an eye on expanding it.
Esslinger has acted as a mentor in the past, and said that by shifting away from a one-on-one mentorship model towards more group sessions, organizers hope to go from about a dozen participants in the past to as many as 50 this year.
Most age limits have been thrown out, so now participants just have to be over 16.
“This is re-imagining the program, or allowing us to reach more women,” Esslinger said.
After feedback from participants, Esslinger said they’ll focus more on the group stuff, but will make job shadowing and mentorship available for those who want it.
Machin said the program gave her a solid foundation in how the municipal system works.
Intimidated no more, she now works at City Hall—she’s got a job in Knack’s office and isn’t ruling out her own future run for office.
“The contacts that you meet, it definitely lessens the intimidation factor of getting involved,” she said.
So far, none of the women who have taken the course have run municipally yet, Esslinger said. But she adds that planning political campaigns take time, and some have taken jobs with the city or moved onto other leadership roles.
But with the expansion of the program, she hopes to see more women out on the campaign trail in 2017.
“I think women want to be elected because they’re the best candidate, not just because they’re women,” she said. “But I think we have some great candidates out there.”
Applications for this year are being accepted until August 30.