Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Most people seemed to focus on the strangeness of Romney-speak after Mitt Romney talked about “binders of women” in the second presidential debate held on October 16. If you missed the debate, here’s what happened.
The candidates were asked a question about inequalities in the workplace and equal pay for women. Obama discussed his support for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which passed, with 36 Republicans in the Senate voting against it, in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision which held that the 180-day statute of limitations on equal-pay lawsuits begins on the date the pay was originally agreed upon, and does not begin again with each new paycheck that contains the discriminatory pay. That decision had prevented Lilly Ledbetter from recovering for unequal pay because she did not learn that she was receiving unequal pay until many years after she was hired.
Obama also mentioned that he supported equal pay for equal work. When Romney answered the question, he discussed his cabinet hiring practices when he was governor of Massachusetts. He explained that he had wanted to hire some women for his cabinet, but he had received the resumes of mostly, if not exclusively, men for the cabinet positions. “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.”
Apparently, his closest advisers, mostly men from Bain Capital, the hedge fund he had headed for many years, did not know women who were qualified for the cabinet positions. So Romney did what any fair-minded, decent employer would do in such a situation – he told his advisers to go out and find qualified women so that he would have a broader employment pool to draw from when he made his hiring decisions. As Romney explained it, he was fabulously successful in his affirmative action approach to filling the positions and received accolades for having so many women in his cabinet when he was Governor of Massachusetts.
This is the same way affirmative action has been implemented successfully around the country. Minorities and women are not hired to fill imaginary or real quotas. They are hired because they are among the qualified applicants who are considered for the jobs. Without seeking out minorities and women, too many employers focus only on sources of applicants familiar to them, including acquaintances and colleagues who may not know many (or any) qualified minorities and women.
I was impressed with this new information about Romney. I had never imagined that he was an affirmative action-loving, fair-minded, progressive interested in fulfilling a feminist agenda. Well, maybe that’s going a bit far. Romney should have stopped after explaining how he had brought affirmative action to his cabinet decisions in Massachusetts. But he didn’t stop. He went on to reveal just how paternalistic he is:
“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. But number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school.”
He explained then that his chief of staff couldn’t work late because she had to be home “making dinner” and “being with them when they get home from school.” Romney said the view toward his chief of staff was, “Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.”
I expect that Massachusetts is no different from most places in the US. Men, as well as women, take care of those and similar domestic chores, so workplace practices need to be flexible for everyone. But Romney revealed that he is extremely old-fashioned and out of touch about men’s and women’s roles. At least, though, he demonstrated that affirmative action is a valuable and important way to eliminate workplace discrimination in hiring.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos
LAMAR W. HANKINS is a former San Marcos city attorney.
COVER: Mitt Romney. PHOTO by CHRIS DEVERS FOR THE TEXAS TRIBUNEEmail | Print