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Romney's Binders: A Business Perspective
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Romney\'s Binders: A Business Perspective

During the Tuesday October 16th presidential debate, in response to a question about how he would “rectify the inequalities in the workplace”, Mitt Romney said that when he was governor of Massachusetts, he had a chance to pull together a Cabinet and all the applicants were men. In response to that finding, Romney said, “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.”

Romney’s comment is being dissected from numerous angles by political analysts and reporters. In this article, I will share a perspective of someone who has served as a chief diversity officer for a Fortune 50 corporation.

For the purpose of this article, I define Mitt Romney as a business executive. He has held executive leadership roles in the private and public-sectors – as the founder of Bain Capital and as governor of Massachusetts.

On one hand, Romney’s comment is a positive sign. He evaluated the pool of talent presented to him, and he realized that the pool lacked women. We can assume that he concluded that this was not proper. We can assume that he understood that as the top public servant for Massachusetts, it was incumbent upon him to ensure that a broad spectrum of the citizens of the state were given opportunities to contribute to the design, development, execution, monitoring and enhancement of government policies and programs which would affect all citizens of that state. There was a time, not too long ago, when such thinking, too often, rarely crossed the minds of business executives. Increasingly, business executives have made deliberate efforts to foster diversity. That is good.

On the other hand, Romney’s comment underscores the shallow effort that too many business executives have made to diversity. The shallow commitment is a result of the failure to link diversity with inclusion. The full benefits of diversity cannot be realized without inclusion. People, with their many differences and similarities, must be allowed to fully participate as members of the team. Diversity must be approached – not as a compliance matter (as was done in the 1970s), or an assimilation matter (as was done in the 1980s), or a culture-blindness matter (as was done in the 1990s) – but, as an inclusion matter to enhance business performance. When that occurs, team members become familiar with the qualities, strengths and weaknesses of both the team as a whole and its individual participants. Meaningful relationships develop. And down-the-road, if there is a need to enhance the diversity of a committee, the members of the team can draw upon their past experiences and relationships to identify talented prospects for the committee.

If Romney had disapproved of the quality of the all-male applicants for the Cabinet, would he have requested a binder of qualified male prospects? Perhaps the answer is yes. But I suspect that he could have drawn upon his past experiences and relationships to identify talented male prospects for the Cabinet.

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