“I learned a great deal,“ said Mitt Romney when asked about women’s pay equity during Tuesday’s debate. He was referring to his term as governor of Massachusetts, when, while assembling his senior staff, he became golly-gee-gobsmacked by the fact that “all the applicants seemed to be men.” Romney was governor of Massachusetts from 2003 till 2007, not the Dark Ages, so this lack of women in his world seems to have come to him later in life than most. Nor is it a question he seems yet to have asked about the upper management ranks of Bain Capital Private Equity (twenty-four women out of 164), Bain Capital Ventures (three out of thirty-six), or the Republican Party leadership for that matter.
But better late than never, right? Clueless, brand-spanking-new Governor Mitt then proceeded to interrogate his staff: “How come all the people for these jobs are all men…” How come, indeed. However in the world? Pray decipher this mysterious riddle. The answer envelope, please: “Well, these are the people who have the qualifications.”
Well, gosh,” said Mitt, who apparently lives in a world where “gosh” is acceptable parlance among hepcats, ”can’t we find some women that are also qualified?” Well, gosh, yes, Mr. Romney! And the next thing you know, he and his team were making “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 theybrought us whole binders full of women.
I can’t do better than the fifty shades of parody that already suffuse the Internet, so let me skip over the obvious. Indeed, the deliciously salacious and show-stopping nature of that particular metaphor has tended to obscure the no less startling significance of what Mitt said next:
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 recognize that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes they need to be more flexible.
Mitt Romney, in other words, would seem to be endorsing affirmative action. His own description of what he did in Massachusetts is exactly the practice just argued last week before the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Fisher v. Texas. Hear it again, paraphrased with race instead of gender: How distressing! All the applicants appear to be white! Good gracious, can’t we find some blacks and Latinos that could be qualified to be part of the team? Let’s make a concerted effort to seek out some black-people groups and see if they can help us find folks we can recruit into the ranks of Bain Bond-age! (As an interesting aside, Bain Capital Private Equity has zero black faces on its upper management team; Bain Capital Ventures, one.)
That said, it’s possible that Romney doesn’t understand what affirmative action really is. To the Republican Party, as well as to many misinformed Americans of other political stripes, affirmative action signifies “unqualified,” as well as “reverse” discrimination, specifically against white men. Through this smeared lens, integration seems a zero sum game, rather than a process of inclusion for all. But the actuality of affirmative action means widening a given pool of people considered, by searches and by advertising, and then applying an “all things being equal” or so-called “mild preference” for under-represented groups like women, minorities or the economically disadvantaged. Again, it is precisely what Romney describes himself as having done.