Employers should be forgiven if, like me, they are confused about what type of “positive action” they are expected to take to integrate women into the workforce.
Gov. Romney’s admission that he told his staff to actually make use of the women’s organizations that promote qualified women by compiling their resumes is apparently evidence that he is a sexist jerk locked in a 1950s mentality and just doesn’t “get” women in the workplace. Even worse, he described how he embraced flex-time policies and tried to make it possible for women who want to be home for their children at dinnertime to do so. For shame! Note that he said women, not parents, who want to be home for dinner so clearly he sees making dinner and child-rearing as exclusively women’s work.
That’s the logic of the Left, epitomized by this article on CNN by two female professors. They seek desperately for offense at Romney’s benign comments, writing:
The "binders" comment also touched on the stickiness of traditional gender roles. Romney said he "recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible." His example of flexibility, however, was allowing his chief of staff to "get home at 5" to make dinner for her family and be with her children. He stopped short of saying it directly, but Romney appears to hold a common belief that women can best be integrated into the workforce if they are still able to fulfill their duties as wives and mothers.
Women's rights organizations fought for decades to dismantle laws that limited women's abilities to compete for jobs. And they succeeded. But informal restrictions still limit women's success, because the progress in the workplace has not been met by any similar shift on the home front.
So Romney is to blame, apparently for the fact that women, including working women, still take on more childcare and home front responsibilities. Never mind that women’s groups have made pushing for “women-friendly” schedules because most women do want to be able to have times for hands-on parenting while working and providing for their family (note that NOW’s women-friendly employer pledge calls for both family-friendly schedules and affirmative action programs for women in terms of hiring—which was essentially exactly what Gov. Romney described). I guess Romney a jerk for actually describing the awkward process of actually seeking women candidates and saying out loud that women are more likely than to want flexible schedules (though it’s okay when female luminaries say the same thing).
Whether it’s nature or nurture that’s to blame, the simple fact is that women basically everywhere on the planet tend to take on more childrearing responsibilities. Personally, while I imagine that social expectations come in to play by making women feel guilty about not being the primary caregiver, nature is mostly to blame. Women carry babies in their bodies for 9 months, often then serve as their food source for many more months, and it can be physically painful for a mom to be separated from her newborn (the book The Female Brain is fascinating in detailing how our brain’s and chemistry are changed by motherhood and we receive positive physical feedback from mothering). This almost certainly lessens as children age, but I don’t think disappears entirely.
Yet the entire nature/nurture argument is beside the point for employers and for assessing Romney’s response. Everyone understands that a more flexible workforce is good for women. The idea that Romney should be shamed for saying that, even if his word choice isn’t ideal, shows that too many liberal women (particularly those in academia) are looking for offense and have different standards for judging people’s statements.
Does anyone seriously think that these women would have written such as article if President Obama had mentioned taking positive action to request qualified women candidates when he was filling positions? Or that he made it a priority to make the workplace family friendly?
The professors close their article with this:
“That a presidential candidate in 2012 can utter such superficial answers to a serious question about women's economic equity and autonomy reveals a lack of serious thought about issues of substantive importance to women.”
I’d say that a column written by professors could be so superficial and bias when covering discussions of women in the workplace reveals a lack of serious thought, and tells us why so much of what goes on in colleges today is utterly useless.