Seen and Heard: Leadership in Public Policy with Chaviva Hosek


Elana Pal

On Wednesday January 16th, Dr. Chaviva Hosek joined MPP candidates at the School of Public Policy & Governance (SPPG) as part of the Leadership in Public Policy Series to reflect on her experiences in social movements and both the public and private sectors. The Leadership Series is specifically designed to expose students to exemplars of leadership in public policy as part of their training as policy makers.

Dr. Chaviva Hosek is a Professor at the School of Public Policy and Governance, having joined in 2012 after spending eleven years as President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. She describes herself as a “modern careerist” but the term does not do justice in describing her impressive and varied career. A lifelong feminist, Dr. Hosek was an active member of the Ontario Committee on the Status of Women, chaired the Women’s Studies Program Committee at the University of Toronto, and a member of the elected executive of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (she served as President of this committee from 1984-1986). Her political career started in 1987 when she was elected as a member of the Ontario Legislature and serviced as Minister of Housing between 1987-1989. Between 1990 and 1993 she ran the Liberal Caucus Research Bureau and was Senior Policy Advisor to Mr. Chretien as Leader of the Opposition. In 1993, Dr. Hosek served seven years as Director of Policy and Research in the Prime Minister’s Office of the Re. Hon. Jean Chretien.

When asked to discuss leadership, Dr. Hosek explained that she is suspicious of the use of this term as it is conflated with the idea of “being the boss”. She cited David King – former Minister of Education in Alberta – to describe her view of leadership as being “a relationship between people rather than a role.” She went on to emphasize the importance of relationships in “getting things done” and believes that leadership should be flexible and move to the person who “embodies” the task at hand. Skeptical of self-declared leaders, she referenced the Idle No More movement and the difficulty it is facing as members spend energy contesting who gets to lead. In order to achieve goals, Dr. Hosek believes that the focus should be on working together as opposed to debating hierarchy. She views learning and teaching as a shared experience in a social movement, which serves well as a mode of leadership when people have shared values and goals.

On the same topic she discussed the particular characteristics needed of a leader in the voluntary sector. She has a strong belief that true leaders, especially in this sector, must be prepared to take responsibility. Her other leadership requirements for the voluntary sector included having an ongoing interest, sense of enjoyment, and belief in the cause you are trying to advance.  Dr. Hosek is not afraid to allow room for error and believes that organizations employing this culture will find leadership from top to bottom and thrive.

When asked if an organization can be too democratic, Dr. Hosek differentiated between an organization and a social movement. Her experience with the Ontario Committee on the Status of Women convinced her that these types of social movements do not require an autocrat given the high level of consensus that exists among members who share similar political views and goals. However, she noted the difficulty in running the National Action Committee on the Status of Women given that it consisted of 500 member groups with differentiated politics and tasks. Dr. Hosek believes that this type of “organization of organizations” cannot be run the same way as a social movement – if it can be run at all.

Given Dr. Hosek’s background and experience as a feminist, the discussion led to the role of gender differences in leadership. When asked if gender matters in leadership her message was clear – “gender matters in everything.” Regardless of changing culture and norms, Dr. Hosek emphasized that gender has not disappeared. In her opinion, the important question is not if gender makes a difference but rather, what kind of a difference does it make. This, she believes, depends on the organizational culture, which also impacts how women behave in leadership roles – adopting either traditionally masculine or feminine characteristics.

Dr. Hosek is not satisfied with the progress humans have made on gender issues, especially when it comes to working and understanding each other. The fact that “crispness” is still perceived as aggressive on a woman and assertive on a man is proof to her that gender still matters. As an advocate of “choice” for girls and women everywhere, Dr. Hosek is an inspiring and valuable role model for our next generation of policy leaders.

Elana Pal is a second year MPP candidate at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance.  Elana holds a Bachelors of Commerce in Finance and International Business from McGill University and worked in Europe’s financial services sector. She has also been working for the Federal Government on Aboriginal issues since the summer.  She is interested in economic and social policy at both the national and global levels.


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