Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Binders Full of Women": Shredding Mitt's Myth

by Nomad


ourtesy of The Atlantic, this photograph from last night's 90-minute debate at Hofstra University in Hemptstead, N.Y seems to capture the inner truth about the candidates.

One exchange during the debate which emerged as an online talking point was Romney's remark on hiring women. 
Here's is a transcript of that segment:

CROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?

ROMNEY: Thank you. An important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.

And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, "How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men." They said, "Well, these are the people that have the qualifications." And I said, "Well, gosh, can't we -- can't we find some -- some women that are also qualified?"
And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.
I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full of women.

I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America. Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort.
His statement seems to contradict his already foggy stand on Affirmative Action. After all, why is hiring from a pre-selected category any different? How is a binder full of women any different than hiring from a binder full of blacks or a binder full of Hispanics? His statement doesn't make sense because, as we shall see, it is based on a misrepresentation of the facts.

In 2008, his position was never exactly clear. Here's what he said then:
I do not support quotas in hiring, government contracting, school admissions or the like. I believe our nation is at its best when people are evaluated as individuals. I do support encouraging inclusiveness and diversity, and I encourage the disclosure of the numbers of women and minorities in top positions of companies and government -- not to impose a quota, but to shine light on the situation. We should always strive for the broadest representation of people, from all walks of life, at all levels of our companies, schools, and government.
Like so much of what Romney says on so many subjects, this is a collection of statements that individually can be quotable but together seem to contradict each other. He says he supports diversity but thinks that that support should come only in a harmless form: a disclosure of the hiring numbers. So how is that support exactly?  "Shining a light" is a poor substitute for corrective action. He offers no carrots and no sticks.

How Romney as governor handled Affirmative Action in his state provides an insight on how he really feels about diversity. Delores Handy writing for Boston NPR sheds some light of her own:
“What he did was that he eliminated the executive orders [on Affirmative Action hiring policy] and he created a new so-called Affirmative Action Office under a different name, saying it would do the same thing. But there were no enabling acts for that office to be guided by,” said Leonard Alkins, who led the local NAACP branch during Romney’s tenure as governor.

Romney’s move to get rid of the state’s long-standing affirmative action policies took place in a deserted State House on Bunker Hill Day in June 2003. When word reached civil rights leaders, black lawmakers and other activists, it sparked a public furor.
In 2008- which is a past life in Romney's world- he appeared to be against Affirmative Action in hiring -though he admitted last night that in practice he was ready to look over the binders of potential recruits, specifically chosen by gender.

But there's another problem with Romney's remark. Romney's suggestion that he reached out to hire women while serving as governor is a complete distortion of the facts. David S. Bernstein in an excellent article, Mind the Binders, makes three very important observations about this claim. 
First there is the question about the binders themselves and who actually initiated this project that Romney wants to take credit for.

Before the Massachusetts gubernatorial election in 2002, a bipartisan group of women came together and formed the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project to find solutions to the problems of gender inequality in a senior leadership in state government. Its mission statement outlines that its purpose:
is to increase the number of women appointed by the new governor to senior-level cabinet positions, agency heads and selected authorities and commissions in the Commonwealth.
Additionally more than 40 organizations affiliated with the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus served as the bipartisan sponsor of the study. The "binders full of women" came not through Governor Romney's efforts, as he implied in the debate, but through this politically progressive organization:
They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.
It was only under this pressure that Romney took any action and, as Berstein reports, the appointments were less more for show than a result of any commitment to fairness.
First of all, according to MassGAP and MWPC , Romney did appoint 14 women out of his first 33 senior-level appointments, which is a reasonably impressive 42 percent. However,... those were almost all to head departments and agencies that he didn't care about -- and in some cases, that he quite specifically wanted to not really do anything. None of the senior positions Romney cared about -- budget, business development, etc. -- went to women.
Bernstein also points out that, according to a university study, senior level position held by women while Romney was governor actually declined, going from 30.0% prior to his taking office, to 29.7% in July 2004, to 27.6% near the end of his term in November 2006. Even more revealing is the fact that once Romney was out of office the numbers began to rise rapidly again.

Finally Bernstein makes this perfect parting shot. After twenty-five years as a consultant working with a large variety of companies across the US, with connections to the highest levels of America corporate management, how credible is that Mitt Romney wouldn't know any qualified women or know where -if he were genuinely interested- to find suitable female candidates. 

The answer is: Not very credible. At all. 

Why should have even needed anybody to bring him binders full of women in the first place? Of course, you can't find if you aren't looking.

The truth of the matter is that Romney's record as CEO of Bain was equally uninspiring when it came to hiring women. As the Boston Globe fairly notes:
Romney, however, did not have a history of appointing women to high-level positions in the private sector. Romney did not have any women partners as CEO of Bain Capital during the 1980s and 1990s.
The venture capital and private equity fields were male-dominated, to be sure, especially during Romney’s time. Women started to break into the upper echelons of the firm after it started a hedge fund, called Brookside in 1996.
Romney's much touted business experience tends to exclude the presence of women. In fact, one columnist for Bloomberg calls the private equity industry has traditionally been little more than a "boy's club" in which women might serve as secretaries but not as executives. Bloomberg adds this:
At nine of the 10 largest U.S. private-equity firms, women account for an average 8.1 percent of managing directors and senior executives, the highest-ranking and best-paying jobs, according to data compiled from the companies and their websites. The comparable figure for the country’s six biggest investment and commercial banks is 30 percent, while women make up 13 percent of the senior ranks at 10 of the largest traditional-asset managers.
Some executives undoubtedly feel that power lies in creating a circle of solid consensus with a very limited range of diversity. However, as a president, such a philosophy is a sure road to political disaster. (Having spent so much time in such an atmosphere perhaps explains why Romney often seems so out of touch with opinions outside of his own. Especially when it comes to women.)
Low levels of diversity have hurt the industry by limiting investment opportunities and leaving executives surrounded by like-minded decision makers, according to investors and corporate-governance experts who have researched the subject.
Despite Romney's bogus claim of sensitivity to gender equality in hiring as governor, Romney as CEO made no effort to change that industry bias at all. He certainly did not find anything upsetting about the fact that, as Bloomberg points out, Bain, which Romney ran for 15 years, counts only "seven women among its 87 managing directors and senior executives, or 8 percent." 

Yes, that's standard for the private-equity industry, as a Romney apologist might argue. However that's not the way Romney portrayed himself at the debate. And more importantly, following trends and maintaining the status quo is not a character trait that most Americans look for when selecting presidential material.
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