Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Binders" and punishing equality in the workplace

In this week's Presidential debate, when Mitt Romney discussed his efforts to ensure gender diversity in hiring cabinet positions as Governor of Massachusetts, one might've thought feminists would have praised him for openly embracing the importance of ensuring gender equality in the workplace - but once again, they proved that no good deed goes unpunished.

When Romney was confronted with a pool of mostly-male candidates to help him run Massachusetts state government, he made an effort to cast a wider net by specifically seeking out female candidates - hence the "binders of women" remark, which was likely intended to mean "binders of resumes from women". The result of this effort was that ten of the twenty top positions in his administration where filled by women, including Beth Myers, his Chief of Staff, and Jane Edmonds, a self-admitted liberal Democrat who was appointed Secretary of Workforce but who spoke glowingly about him at this year's GOP convention (please see her convention speech below).

While one would think that Romney would be praised for creating more opportunities for women, the news media and Internet was full of attacks from those on the political Left who ignored the substance of his comments and used the phrase "binders of women" out of context to fuel their latest political attacks against him.

Again, here's where I step out of the political context and put on my human resources hat to discuss this issue in a more informed context.

As a human resources professional, I'm concerned about these attacks because Mitt Romney didn't do anything I don't do in my hiring practices. I carefully work to make sure the widest pool of candidates is available to fill staffing needs, not because I believe in political correctness in the workplace, but rather because I believe that the more choices to choose from, the better a hiring decision that I'll make. It's just like one might do when buying a car, choosing a college for their children, or deciding where to go for vacation.

And I cringe when someone of a conservative political persuasion says "diversity" is merely a vehicle for imposing political correctness and looks at me like I've sold out. But given the way the issue has been politicized, I can't entirely blame them for approaching the issue with caution.

When used to ensure the best range of outputs from which a fair and qualified hiring decision can be made, increasing diversity in applicants and hiring is a good thing. When it's used to satisfy a political agenda and replace one kind of discrimination with another, it's wrong. It's something that both Mitt Romney and myself - and many across the political spectrum - agree upon.

Activists on the left who claim to want more opportunities for women aren't doing their cause any favors when they attack those on the political right who work for goals they claim to hold dear. Where they could have used last night's debate as proof that diversity isn't a left versus right issue of political correctness, they instead chose to politicize and distort the issue and in doing so, punished Romney for trying to do the right thing.

Hopefully voters will see past these attacks and people won't confuse efforts to increase diversity in the workplace with kowtowing to a radical political agenda - but I fear they may do just that.



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