The many reasons women don’t take risks and why it’s important we do
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
by Myrrhanda Novak
Four years ago, a nasty windstorm blew shingles off the roofs of houses throughout my neighbourhood. The next day, my husband and I surveyed the damage. I said we needed to hire someone. He said he just needed to find the ladder. Both of us knew without any discussion that I was not a candidate for the job. I would never take that risk. In my mind, women don’t do that. Women don’t fix roofs. And I wasn’t alone in that thinking. The day after the storm, all down our street you could see only men on their roofs, and women looking up at them cursing and praying.
I started following Megz Reynolds on social media in the fall of last year. She had a lot of interesting thoughts to share on agriculture, parenting, childcare, mental health and government policy. But there was one post that really struck me. It was a selfie she took while standing on her roof with the caption “Excited to be starting to reroof the house…”.
I guess in her mind, women can do that.
Megz is a grain farmer in rural Saskatchewan with her husband and their two daughters. She is a minority in the agriculture industry where only 30 per cent of farm operators are women.
Megz also stands out because she has taken on a leadership role, not just here in Canada, but internationally. She helped organize a conference in Germany bringing together global agriculture advocates and has become a trusted voice for farmers, speaking in Canada and other parts of the world on mental health, policy engagement and the importance of connection. She is a social media influencer with a massive Twitter following and she has generated a great deal of positive engagement as well as some angry backlash.
This was certainly the case when Megz announced on social media that she has put her name forward as a possible candidate in the upcoming federal election – entering yet another arena where women are underrepresented, just barely exceeding a quarter of elected Members of Parliament (MPs).
Unquestionably, women face significant barriers to running for public office, particularly at the federal level. I’ve seen first hand from a decade of working with Members of Parliament and Ministers both male and female, most with kids, just how relentlessly demanding the work is and what an incredible strain it puts on family life. It’s no secret that running for federal politics is a risk most women aren’t willing to take.
But in Megz’ mind, women can do that. Mothers can do that.
Megz is this week's guest on the WOMENdontDOthat podcast. When we spoke, Megz told me, “My husband has this way of describing me - if you tell me I can’t do something, I’m basically going to say ‘hold my beer’ and go do it.”
And when you scroll her Instagram feed and see posts about her two girls, long runs, home renovations, fixing farm equipment, speaking engagements, seeding, harvest and campaigning… it’s not surprising that she is often asked how she does it all.
“I’ve tried to change the dialogue a little bit,” she shares. “My husband has the girls as much as I do and nobody is asking him how he makes it all work.” The reality, in her family as in many families, is that both parents are managing a lot. But so often, women feel the most pressure to keep it all together and ensure a work-life balance.
Research, history and personal experience all demonstrate how true this is and how much this can limit women’s ambition. There’s little debate that limited access to quality childcare, lack of flexibility in some workplaces, fear of criticism, and wanting to put our kids first are just some of the very real barriers that stand between women and their personal goals and aspirations.
“As moms we love to heap all of that pressure and guilt on ourselves,” shares Megz. “I want to be everybody’s rock and I want to put everybody and their health before me.”
When considering a career as an MP, Megz says she has sought advice from other mothers in politics and had many conversations with her husband and family. She is willing to take on the challenge, she says, because she is passionate about rural politics, she wants to see a greater diversity of voices in government and she wants to show her girls that they can do anything.
“It is so easy to put everybody else first and to say I have this dream or I did want to do that one day, but I need to raise my kids first or I need to do this first, and then sometimes it’s too late," says Megz. "There is no sugar-coating that it won’t be challenging,” she admits. “I think and I hope that the potential benefits will outweigh what that could be like.”
And that’s the crux of it right there. As women, especially as moms, we are always weighing the trade-offs. Is the risk going to be worth the reward? Is this work going to be meaningful in view of what I could have done instead? These are rarely easy questions, but we need to feel empowered to ask them, and empowered to make our dreams a real priority.
Maybe roofing is not for you. Even if I had the safety equipment like Megz did, roofing is still not showing up on my Instagram feed anytime soon.
But calculated risk is for me. Tackling new challenges is for me. Giving up control and embracing the unknown - that’s for me. Women can do that. The world needs us to do that.
Listen now to my conversation with Megz and share your feedback. And check out the reflection show where Stephanie and I discuss our personal observations of what federal politics is really like behind the scenes.