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Source of Inspiration
Alumni POV

Source of Inspiration

A U of M alumna and journalist comes back to campus to recognize a milestone for women.

By Lisa Kassenaar

I skipped my University of Manitoba graduation ceremony in the Spring of 1988. Instead, the day after the last exam of my B. Comm(Hons), my mom drove me to the railway station on Main Street with a huge, blue backpack from ‘The Happy Outdoorsman’ and I boarded a train to Vancouver.

I returned to campus in January this year to interview Anne Mahon [BHEcol/87], who’ll take over as chancellor in June. It’s significant to me, and I think to Manitoba, that the person who’ll confer U of M degrees on thousands of new engineers, scientists, philosophers, lawyers, artists and entrepreneurs is a woman. She’s just the second female chancellor since 1887.

I lived in Vancouver, Fernie, Toronto and Chicago before finding my way to a journalism career in New York City. After 15 years covering business and finance at Bloomberg News, I took on a project to push our global news organization to consider women as crucial sources and voices in stories from 150 bureaus in 70 countries. I currently lead a women’s initiative at Voice of America, a parallel—yet entirely different—challenge: Bloomberg writes for the traders and investors who move the world’s money around; VOA broadcasts to 230 million people a week in the developing world, in 45 languages from Amharic to Uzbek.

“I believe that we are all a little too comfortable with the slow progress of integrating women’s voices into the public dialogue.”

Women are half the people, but they are simply not present in a huge majority of the stories we read and hear, regardless of the media source. I believe that we are all a little too comfortable with the slow progress of integrating women’s voices into the public dialogue. We celebrate the women we do see, but forget, for instance, that almost three quarters of Canada’s parliamentarians are still men. Our move to gender balance must be deliberate. For me, that starts with driving journalists to judge their own work incomplete without a woman’s perspective. For woman leaders in their fields, it demands they participate with the press.

In the U of M Commerce program of the 1980s, I never had a female professor. Images of men and lists of men’s names filled the hallways. I did go to an event at the Manitoba Club, the historic meeting place for Winnipeg’s business elite that, at the time, only men could join. It was a Ladies’ Night fashion show.

I used to wonder why I was so quick to get on that VIA Rail train to BC instead of enjoying the pomp of receiving my undergraduate degree along with my classmates. The reality is that, as a 21-year-old woman, I felt entirely disconnected from the accomplishment. Now, I’m on board with the more succinct conclusion of my friend Marie Wilson, who created ‘Take Our Daughters to Work Day’ as head of the Ms. Foundation in 1992: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

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