March 19,1998

International Women's Day

War for acceptance may be won at home,but not in the global boardroom
The five women of CASA talk about feminist issues

by Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins

Women made their mark on Concordia's Commerce and Administration Student Association as never before this year. Five women were elected president of eight CASA subdivisions, up from a high of three last year, a turning-point for an organization that has long favoured male leaders.

And the women at CASA couldn't be happier. "If women prove that they can lead at university, then it shows they can lead in the workforce, too," said Patrizia Marro, 23, president of DSMISSA, which represents students majoring in Decision Science and Management Information Systems.

The five women got together at CASA's downtown offices just after International Women's Day (March 8) to reflect on the evolving role of women in the workforce. "University is the best place for women to pave the way for others," said Vincenza Timpano, 23, who, as FISA president, represents students majoring in Finance and Investment. "Having women presidents at the university level gets young men prepared for seeing women in positions of authority."

But if women are to burst through the glass ceiling that these five women acknowledge still exists, they should do it on their own merits. All were weary about companies that implement quota systems to help women or minorities gain promotions.

"I'd rather an employer look at my qualifications instead of my gender. I think a position should be earned," said Lisa Putnam, 24, Accounting Society president. She added that women of her generation pursue their goals as actively as men. "I have never considered gender an issue."

However, Daina Todorovic, 22, president of the Management Society, said quotas are sometimes a necessary evil to instill gender equilibrium where it is absent. "In a perfect situation, we wouldn't need quotas," she said. "But quota systems have given women a chance" to join men in top positions.

Anne-Marie Parant, 24, president of the Marketing Students' Association, said she is greatly encouraged by the positive attitudes male professors and students at Concordia demonstrate toward females wanting to assume positions of power.

"These men, and most of our generation, have open minds about women leading them," Parant said. The need for quotas is almost an antiquity, she added, since most companies no longer regard men as better suited for upper posts. "Companies recognize that women are qualified, and want to join their top ranks."

Marro said a new reality that women - and men - must face in the corporate world is job instability, which is fueling her desire to move up the corporate ladder. "I hope to move up so I can obtain security," she said. "Everyone is hired on contract today, and the only people with some job security are those with [a management] position."

But the biggest challenge for women, the CASA presidents said, is accessing positions of authority outside the Western world in our increasingly global corporate community. Some other cultures do not regard women as suitable bosses, Todorovic said. "I sense that if an international company had a choice between sending me or a man to an Arab country, for example, I wouldn't be picked. It makes me nervous thinking that I might be looked over for a position because of my gender."

All five agreed, though, that taking part in a student organization like CASA has helped them acquire skills that will make them more competitive, regardless of their sex. "Having been president, I know I have gained experience managing projects, people and money," Putnam said. Parant added their positions brought out their entrepreneurial skills, and the others agreed that being a student president is a confidence-booster. However, the prominence of women at CASA may be a one-year wonder; out of seven student presidents nominated for next year at CASA, only one is a woman.

Copyright 1998 Thursday Report
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