Advice from a champion

Advice from a champion

Being a union activist is about exercising leadership and influence. But because of sexist socialization, too many women underestimate their ability to take on the decision-making, mobilizing and representation roles that are part and parcel of union responsibilities.

Exceptional guest speaker, Rosette Côté

Participants at the second meeting of the APTS network of local feminist action officers, held on October 26, were treated to an inspiring talk by Rosette Côté.

After serving as chief of staff to Québec cabinet ministers in the early 2000s and becoming the first chair of Québec’s pay equity commission, Côté is now a women’s leadership consultant and coach. Bolstered by an impressive career that began in teaching, union activism and feminism at the CEQ (subsequently the CSQ), which enabled her to develop the skills and empowerment she needed to have a real influence, Rosette Côté offered us some of the keys to her professional success.

1. Working on yourself

If you want to be a leader and inspire confidence, you have to be self-confident, which doesn’t always come easily to women. This means you need to work on your self-assurance, your posture and your sense of humour. Don’t be shy to take credit for your successes and toot your own horn. To hell with being reserved and modest! Parallel to that, there is much to be gained from knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, paying close attention to your own reactions, and witnessing yourself in action.

2. Understanding your role, and union resistance

In the labour movement, there are still persistent stereotypes about various traits associated with each gender. People are more likely to see men as leaders and women as not having enough availability, being overly sensitive to others, and being too emotional and vulnerable to handle the constant battles associated with union life.

3. Doing your homework and knowing your files inside out

It goes without saying that it’s important to grasp both the overt and covert issues, hone your ability to synthesize and analyse information and present reasoned arguments from a feminist perspective, based on facts and evidence.

4. Exercising self-control and reading others’ emotions

Be prepared to take into account how your words and ideas affect others. While it’s normal to express your emotions when speaking, it’s important to not let them get out of hand, and to be alert to other peoples’ reactions and any signs of disagreement.

5. Developing your political instincts

The ability to bring about change is acquired over time, as you gradually familiarize yourself with the organization’s complexities and issues and with the various openings or threats to change. Choosing the approach or method that’s best suited to the circumstances and the individuals involved, forging astute alliances, choosing the right time to let go, making a decision or settling – all this has to be learned.

6. Coming prepared to meetings

This is one of the golden rules that will help you keep sight of your goal. If you follow it, you’ll be ready for anything and have an alternate solution ready to pull out of your back pocket. It’s important not to let a defeat get you down.

7. Assessing group dynamics

Who is the real leader in the group? Who is influencing whom? Who can you count on? When it comes to the undecideds, what arguments might bring them over to your point of view? Every group has its own chemistry and it’s your job to discover the various elements in the equation.

8. Knowing how to argue your case and get your message across

You’re not the one who needs convincing. You have to direct your attention to the ones who need it, while relating to the audience. It’s always wise to write out your speech, prepare a concise message, present one idea at a time and give examples to illustrate, so that you can concentrate on how your message is being received.

 9. Organizing your joint strategy and presentations

Whenever possible, it’s wise to prepare the order and content of the presentations with your allies. Rehearsing your speech ahead of time will ensure the best results in terms of delivering a clear message.

10. Developing a thick skin

Easier said than done! It’s always a good time to learn how to pick your battles, accept that you won’t have unanimous support, and put aside your desire to please everyone. Having another woman to confide in who acts as your mentor or confidante will make things easier and help you advance, as will the support of members of your networks.

You have to be strategic to get your point across, which means knowing what you want, working on yourself, singling out the people you need to convince, and identifying people’s respective interests.

Rosette Côté concluded by stating that the ability to influence others depends on reason and emotion, on our ability to assert who we are and what we know, on what we become through introspection and openness toward others. Any kind of deliberation has to be viewed as a debate centring on values rather than on personalities. And it’s important not to give sexist attacks more attention than they deserve, knowing that their intended aim is to destabilize us. Sometimes, during a debate, it’s best to ignore them… at least for the time being.

Achieving equitable representation has been a key concern of the APTS feminist action committee since the General Council passed resolutions to further women’s participation in union decision-making bodies. On November 15, the General Council adopted an action plan to make this goal a reality. Measures to encourage women to take their rightful place in APTS decision-making bodies will be implemented in the very near future.

The issues that led to the development of this action plan are outlined in this brochure.

By Chantal Mantha | With Élaine Giroux | November 21, 2018