My Take on “Bindergate”

Unless you live off the grid, or unless you really hate politics, you’ve no doubt heard the “binder” soundbite from last week’s presidential debate. You know, the one where candidate Mitt Romney talks about “a binder full of women.” The moment has been relentlessly (and creatively) mocked. I think my favorites are this one, this one and this one.

Anyhow, here’s the full transcript:

“I said: ‘Well, gosh, can’t we find some women that are also qualified? And so 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.”

Despite a bit of a intrigue about whether Romney sought out the binder or whether it was brought to him, I know what Mitt Romney meant. He was talking about resumes and he just misspoke. He meant to say, “they brought me binders full of (resumes of qualified) women.” Choppy English, but I get his intention.

On top of that, it seems that Governor Romney actually used those binders, once he got them. In fact, his administration hired and appointed women into significant positions of leadership. The other day, former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Kerry Healey was quoted as saying that 10 of the top 20 positions in Romney’s administration were filled by women, including his chief of staff.

In some corners of the media Romney is being vilified as being misogynistic or anti-women, and for every quote like the one above, you’ll find 10 more disputing it. Still, for the most part, I think these characterizations are unfair.

Instead, for me Bindergate offers a window into the grip that male privilege has on Mr. Romney, corporate America and our culture more broadly. Here’s what I mean:

Mitt Romney comes from a corporate context. He’s also spent time in the political arena. To call these sectors of society male-dominated is to understate it. Corporate America is really a bastion of male privilege. For example, as of July only 10% of U.S. Fortune 500 companies were being led by women, and having 20 female Fortune 500 CEOs is an all time record. On top of that, at a corporate governance level, only 16.1% of Fortune 500 Board seats are held by women in this country.

With this as context, it’s not surprising that Mitt Romney needed a binder full of resumes in order to find a suitable female candidate. It’s not surprising, but it is unfortunate. Here’s my thing:

I wish Mitt Romney didn’t need the binder.

Not needing the binder would mean a couple of things. First, that Romney had made it a practice of surrounding himself with capable and gifted women, so that when it was time to fill his administration, it was simply a question of who fit where. Or, it would mean that Romney had been following the careers of up-and-coming women leaders and, now that he had an opportunity, he could champion them into positions of influence. Most of all, not needing the binder would mean that Mitt Romney recognized that in this country the corporate playing field is not level and that as governor-elect he would be in a key position to do something about that.

As long as we have male privilege, we’ll need binders full of women. And I for one am eager to get to a place where we can be binder-free.

What do you think? What would it take for us to be binder free?

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4 responses to “My Take on “Bindergate””

  1. writingfromjoy says :

    Honestly, my first thought after reading this is a little off topic: “what about all the women who decide to stay home and the cultural guilt they face because they aren’t out ‘being productive’ (which just means earning a paycheck).” My daughter was three and a half before I fully pushed through that guilt and accepted that my 24/7 job is just a useful to society. Also, what’s the ratio of women who choose to stay out of the marketplace vs those who want to run Fortune 500 companies?

    That thought leads me to personality types (Myers-Briggs style) and realizing that a great majority of women are born with personalities that thrive in a supporting role (ESFJ and ISFJ), but don’t neccesarily want to be in the spotlight. Both my mother-in-law and her mother are these types and they will organize, coordinate, plan and implement the socks on anyone, but give public speeches and fire people? Not something they like to do, though I’m sure they could. The majority of men, on the other hand, are ESTJs and ISTJs. Whether their personalities are more fit for business or business developed around these dominant personalities, I don’t know.

    I’m not arguing women don’t have a cultural disadvantage in business or government–I’m frustrated by male politicians who call their female contenders by their first name, not the title they’ve earned–it’s the numbers game I don’t like. I don’t see as many women who want to be heads of state or business so I don’t expect to see the same number of women running these institutions as men. That Romney’s cabinet was half female feels a little artificial to me.

    Until men can exclusively breastfeed their babies to six months of age, I won’t be offended by all the mamas who stay home to do so more productively. 🙂

    References:

    –Infographic: Personality Types in the U.S. Population http://www.personalitydesk.com/story/infographic-personality-types-us-population

    –For descriptions and statistics of types, see http://www.mypersonality.info

    • rdixon1365 says :

      Hey Mal, thanks for posting! Couple of quick thoughts in reply:
      1. In the end, I’m interested in a world where both men and women are empowered to lead in whatever context they are called to, whether that’s staying at home or in a Boardroom.
      2. For this to happen, I think we need to figure out a way for people to lead according to how they’ve been wired, MBTI included! In particular, I want to see us get to a point where a woman can lead as a woman, even in a traditionally male corporate context. I’m not interested in women having to fit a certain leadership mold in order to be accepted.

  2. Sol says :

    Hi Rob,
    Thanks for this post. I completely understand the feeling of, “I wish Mitt Romney didn’t need the binder”. That’s what has made me incredibly sad as I’ve engaged with your post. My initial thoughts are to say that in order to live binder-free we need to acknowledge there are gifted, and talented women who are able to influence many. After engaging the reality of privilege and women who are going unseen, to begin to restructure current systems to develop and equip these women in a variety of platforms to begin to pave the way. But first we need to be diligent in seeing them.

    I could talk much more about this, let’s chat soon.

    • rdixon1365 says :

      Hey Sol. These are great thoughts and, yes, let’s meet up to talk more. Part of the tension I’m experiencing in writing this blog is that I’m not yet at the solutions phase. Basically, right now I’m still describing the problem. What I appreciate most about your reply is the emphasis on really seeing people. That’s critical.

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