You cannot deny that the nine members of the new Students’ Union Executive deserve their place. Throughout two weeks of campaigning, where candidates were expected to campaign day and night over different campuses and out in town, all of the elected candidates put themselves out there and really made a case for their inclusion in the SU Executive. Some of them won due to well-thought out promises, others inevitably for their style of campaigning.
It is interesting to note, however, that despite the best efforts of the Students’ Union there is still a remarkably unbalanced feel to this year’s Executive. There are currently three females and six males on the current Executive; next year, that will drop to two females, with one of those being the sole part-time non-sabbatical position of ESJ and the other, ironically, the role of Equal Opportunities and Welfare Officer. Next year, there could potentially be only one female officer, holding the part-time, non-sabbatical position of Environment and Social Justice Officer. While Katie Mackay had been elected to the Equal Opportunities and Welfare Officer position, this has been thrown into the air by a successful appeal by former candidate John Smith*.
This could be taken as proof that female participation is underwhelming – the fact that ¾ of candidates running for executive positions at the start of the elections period were men appears to support this. It is also a worrying thought that the four positions that are arguably the most responsible (as they become trustees of the University for seven years after they leave office) – the roles of President, Finance, Education and Democracy and Communications – have all been won by male candidates. The absence of international and ethnic minority students elected to Executive positions only serves to further highlight the problem.
This is not, however, for lack of trying by the SU Exec. Current Democracy and Communications Officer Dave Hind explains, “There has been an increase in women standing for the elections, but unfortunately the demographics of the executive don’t match up with this. We would obviously like to see a more balanced demographic but, despite this, I’m sure that it will not prove detrimental”.
George Wright, officer-elect for the Democracy and Communication position for 2010-11, pursues a similar line of thought, “What I think needs to happen is not necessarily more publicity but better publicity through the right channels and networks. I think that our SU Exec needs to reflect the diverse student body that it represents, not just in gender but in every respect; age, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, everything. For this to happen we obviously need a more diverse set of candidates”.
Statistics detailing previous Executives hardly paint a sympathetic picture towards the role of women on the SU Executive. With the exception of 2004-5 (the only year in the previous decade to have a majority of women on the Executive) there has been a steady decline in the number of women winning elections, from 50% representation in 2001-2 to this year’s meagre 22%. This could be partly attributed to fewer positions being available in the last two elections than before. Yet it doesn’t explain why, when more women are standing, fewer are actually being elected to office.
Katie Mackay, who had been elected to Equal Opportunities and Welfare, was in a position with responsibilities which have traditionally been dominated by female candidates. (Dan Downes, the current officer, is the only male to hold this role in the last ten years). She believes that “to address the case in aiming to increase participation of female, international and BME students, increasing awareness and empowering such groups to run in the election would be a good start”. She goes on to say, “If I gave an answer now it would be speculating. It is something that I need to look into by way of gaining feedback from students themselves and acting in response to this”.
Whatever the solution, it is clear that the Union still has work to do if it is to truly consider itself representative of us all.
*Name changed to protect students’ identity.