Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Binders Full of Women" Drawing Attention

It's no surprise when Presidential Debates spawn catchy soundbites to be used in the next blitz of political ads, and if current trending reports have anything to say about it, "binders full of women" is the new Big Bird.  Since Romney answered a question about pay equity for women at Tuesday's debate by referring to the "binders full of women" he used to hire qualified women for cabinet positions, the term has garnered astounding media and Internet attention.  A Facebook page entitled "Binders Full of Women" accrued over 100,000 "likes" in less than an hour following the debate and Twitter was flooded with #bindersfullofwomen tweets.  Even online retailer Amazon reports a surge in reviews for binders, drenched in sarcasm.  


Putting fun aside, fact checkers were quick to point out that the binders Governor Romney referred to landed on his gubernatorial desk because of the actions of  the nonpartisan Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.  The caucus had approached both Mitt Romney and his opponent, Shannon O' Brien, prior to the 2002 gubernatorial election with their Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (MassGAP).  The project was a nonpartisan, collective effort of over 25 women's organizations to recruit women to apply for government positions within the incoming administration, and to recommend qualified women for those positions.  Both the O'Brien and Romney campaigns committed to the MassGAP process.  In short, the "binders full of women" Romney boasted about were not a result of his campaign's diligence or initiative, and they would have just as likely graced the desk of a Governor O' Brien, had she been elected.  


In 2002, women comprised about 30 percent of appointed senior-level positions in the Massachusetts government.  Under Governor Romney in 2004, 42 percent of the new cabinet appointments were women.  However, from 2004-2006 the percentage dropped to 25 percent.  


Mitt Romney infamously dodged Diane Sawyer's probes regarding his opinion about the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act during the GOP primaries, but his advisor Ed Gillespie told reporters after Tuesday's debate that the governor was opposed to the bill.  Several hours later, Gillespie clarified Romney's position further, stating that he had opposed the bill in 2009, but would not act to repeal it as president.  

President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in to law in 1963, and Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.  Currently, according to Department of Labor statistics, women earn an average of 77 cents compared to their male counterparts' dollar.   


A transcript, from the Commission on Presidential Debates, of the questioning that led to the catchphrase "binders full of women" follows: 






QUESTION: In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?
OBAMA: Well, Katherine, that's a great question. And, you know, I was raised by a single mom who had to put herself through school while looking after two kids. And she worked hard every day and made a lot of sacrifices to make sure we got everything we needed. My grandmother, she started off as a secretary in a bank. She never got a college education, even though she was smart as a whip. And she worked her way up to become a vice president of a local bank, but she hit the glass ceiling. She trained people who would end up becoming her bosses during the course of her career.
She didn't complain. That's not what you did in that generation. And this is one of the reasons why one of the first -- the first bill I signed was something called the Lily Ledbetter bill. And it's named after this amazing woman who had been doing the same job as a man for years, found out that she was getting paid less, and the Supreme Court said that she couldn't bring suit because she should have found about it earlier, whereas she had no way of finding out about it. So we fixed that. And that's an example of the kind of advocacy that we need, because women are increasingly the breadwinners in the family. This is not just a women's issue, this is a family issue, this is a middle-class issue, and that's why we've got to fight for it.
It also means that we've got to make sure that young people like yourself are able to afford a college education. Earlier, Governor Romney talked about he wants to make Pell Grants and other education accessible for young people.
Well, the truth of the matter is, is that that's exactly what we've done. We've expanded Pell Grants for millions of people, including millions of young women, all across the country.
We did it by taking $60 billion that was going to banks and lenders as middlemen for the student loan program, and we said, let's just cut out the middleman. Let's give the money directly to students.
And as a consequence, we've seen millions of young people be able to afford college, and that's going to make sure that young women are going to be able to compete in that marketplace.
But we've got to enforce the laws, which is what we are doing, and we've also got to make sure that in every walk of life we do not tolerate discrimination.
That's been one of the hallmarks of my administration. I'm going to continue to push on this issue for the next four years.
CROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?
ROMNEY: Thank you. And 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?"
ROMNEY: 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. 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.
She said, I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.
We're going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I'm going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they're going to be anxious to hire women. In the -- in the last women have lost 580,000 jobs. That's the net of what's happened in the last four years. We're still down 580,000 jobs. I mentioned 31/2 million women, more now in poverty than four years ago.
What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers that are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford.
This is what I have done. It's what I look forward to doing and I know what it takes to make an economy work, and I know what a working economy looks like. And an economy with 7.8 percent unemployment is not a real strong economy. An economy that has 23 million people looking for work is not a strong economy.
An economy with 50 percent of kids graduating from college that can't finds a job, or a college level job, that's not what we have to have. CROWLEY: Governor?
ROMNEY: I'm going to help women in America get good work by getting a stronger economy and by supporting women in the workforce.
CROWLEY: Mr. President why don't you get in on this quickly, please?
OBAMA: Katherine, I just want to point out that when Governor Romney's campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill, whether he supported it? He said, "I'll get back to you." And that's not the kind of advocacy that women need in any economy. Now, there are some other issues that have a bearing on how women succeed in the workplace. For example, their healthcare. You know a major difference in this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making.
I think that's a mistake. In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured. Because this is not just a -- a health issue, it's an economic issue for women. It makes a difference. This is money out of that family's pocket. Governor Romney not only opposed it, he suggested that in fact employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage.
That's not the kind of advocacy that women need. When Governor Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country, who rely on Planned Parenthood for, not just contraceptive care, they rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings. That's a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country. And it makes a difference in terms of how well and effectively women are able to work. When we talk about child care, and the credits that we're providing. That makes a difference in whether they can go out there and -- and earn a living for their family.
These are not just women's issues. These are family issues. These are economic issues.
And one of the things that makes us grow as an economy is when everybody participates and women are getting the same fair deal as men are.
CROWLEY: Mr. President...
OBAMA: And I've got two daughters and I want to make sure that they have the same opportunities that anybody's sons have. That's part of what I'm fighting for as president of the United States.