by Linda Beale
Romney’s “Binders full of women” comment
editor’s note: this is a political commentary and not a tax discussion.
When Romney was asked what he could do about the inequity in women’s compensation, he didn’t answer the question. He tried to turn it to his advantage by telling a story of how he ended up bringing a number of women into his cabinet back in the days when he was a more liberal politician serving as governor of Massachusetts. He claimed that he wasn’t pleased that his staff hadn’t found qualified women for cabinet posts, and that he told them to go shake the trees and find some. They came back with a binder full of women and he appointed a cabinet with record numbers of women.
So he didn’t answer what he would do about the pay inequities that exist. He didn’t answer what he would do about the hiring inequities that exist, other than what seemed to be a personal claim that he personally ensured that there was an adequate search to establish a deep pool of women cabinet candidates.
But as a woman, I was jarred by the comment. It was as though there really weren’t any “qualified” women but when pushed, he was able to come up with “binders” of women that could be appointed anyway and he did. There was a hint that the women he appointed weren’t really “qualified”. Or that because he had to push his staff to go out and find them, something else was wrong.
It turns out that another organisation–the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus– was thinking ahead and trying to ensure that whomever was elected governor would be aware of the many qualified women who could serve on a cabinet. It created a Government Appointments Project (MassGAP) that developed an extensive process for candidate consultation on including women in high-level positions and got pre-election commitment from both the Democratic and Republican candidates to make efforts towards that goal. It was binders put together by MassGAP that the governor used to make his appointments. (Perhaps if organisations in other states had prepared in that way, even more governors would have done better jobs of appointing females to their cabinets.)
Further, the meaty positions that were considered central to the functioning of the state (budget, trade, and similar matters) were indeed handed over to men. The women were given more peripheral roles.
While Romney should receive some recognition for acknowledging that appointment of women was and is the right thing to do, his awkward phrasing nonetheless suggests that he doesn’t think women are at a par with men in this game of politics, and his avoidance of the heart of the equity question suggests he doesn’t get it.
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