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Bring on the Binders

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While Mitt Romney was on stage making three-ring binders socially relevant again, there were more than 600 movers and shakers in the financial services industry who missed the presidential debate last Tuesday to attend American Banker's gala event celebrating the most powerful women in banking and finance.

Binders were not on the agenda. But a dialogue about diversity candidates certainly was.

Politics aside, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone at the event who disagreed with the sentiment Romney (so awkwardly) expressed: to get more women in important roles, you need the decision makers to be looking at female candidates. And oftentimes for that to happen, you need to deliver the resumes of female candidates directly to the decision makers, who don't always have gender equity at the top of their mind when making their picks, and whose own awareness about the field of candidates is probably a lot more limited than you'd think.

If advancing to the C-suite was simply a matter of performing well and waiting for a tap on the shoulder from the chairman of the board, there would have been a female CEO by now at a top 10 bank. (It took until last May, when Beth Mooney became CEO at KeyCorp, for women to crack the top 20.)

Women can wait around another decade or two for more milestones to be reached, or they can follow the lead of the women's groups in Massachusetts that presented Romney and his staff with binders filled with resumes of women worth considering as governor appointees. It seems to me that the latter strategy would be far more efficient and effective.

This was precisely the point that my colleague Barbara Rehm made in her thought-provoking speech at the dinner, where she brought up the "Q" word – quotas – and defended the point nicely. (If you prefer, use the term "goals" in lieu of quotas; the implications are the same.) Her point was that plenty of boards say they want a diverse field of candidates to choose from when making important hires. But it's hard to come up with a significantly diverse field of significantly credible candidates unless someone is out there scouting for them, compiling their dossiers and in a position to advocate for them at the point when the decision gets made. Women do that for one another. Just ask Charlotte McLaughlin, head of PNC Capital Markets. As Rehm noted in her speech, McLaughlin was the first female on the board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, and she was committed to moving the needle on diversity at the organization's senior levels. As more women joined the board, that effort got even more momentum.

HSBC USA's Irene Dorner, No. 1 on this year's list of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking, got the ballroom buzzing when she talked about advocating for the promotion of women and other under-represented groups. As a bank CEO, she said, she sees that as one of her primary responsibilities. And she urged her peers to join her in pushing back on the status quo. "[D]on't accept the old rules," she said. "Speak up about what you want. Believe and encourage others to do the same and lead by example … Do not pretend to be role model if your success was based on mastering the old rules. And for goodness sake, do not be a queen bee and pull that ladder up behind you."

In other words, get out those binders. Collect those resumes. Punch three holes in the margins, stack ‘em up on the rings and deliver them directly to the people who need to see them.

Romney may have worded it a lot more awkwardly, but he has never expressed a more pro-female sentiment than when he talked about those "binders full of women." It's an astoundingly progressive strategy. Yes, I know, you could argue he could do one better by not needing any binders in the first place, by developing and maintaining a radar screen that is broad enough and inclusive enough that he would always have a short list of qualified female candidates at the ready. But until THAT'S the status quo, bring on the binders!

Heather Landy is Editor in Chief of American Banker Magazine.

 

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Comments (5)
Good and almost totally fair column. But not sure if its influenced by an author really not wanting to have to say nice things about Romney, or (more likely) afraid of the ridicule she will get from peers for doing so.

He did indeed "express" a more pro-female sentiment when he ACTUALLY had his people specifically search out qualified female applicants. Words are cheap and worth even less. It's a leader's actions that matter.

He may have left the word "resume" out of his statement, but anyone actually listening to what he said knew EXACTLY what he was explaining. And anyone who would argue that "he could do one better by not needing binders in the first place" is really just making a political statement... no?

He created a leadership team while governor that included more women in meaningful, senior level positions than any other state in the union. HE did that. Nobody forced him to. He looked around and saw that things had to change. And... folks who claim to support women want to criticize how he explained it in a 2 minute debate answer?

Oh, and do you think "reporters" have been trolling feverishly for months to find women who worked for Romney to come out and say what an evil guy he is? Doesn't seem to be the case, does it?

Contrast that to Anita Dunn (not exactly a right-wing nut) stating about the Obama White House: "...looking back, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace. ... Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.''

But yeah, Romney said "binders". So, none of that other stuff matters.
Posted by My 2 Cents | Wednesday, October 24 2012 at 5:34PM ET
Kudos to Romney for making sure that he vetted the best female candidates and for putting them in leadership positions. Shame on those who showed an infantile need to ridicule his botched delivery.

Paul Davis, Editor, Community Banking, American Banker
Posted by pdavis1 | Wednesday, October 24 2012 at 5:41PM ET
More lies or untruths, or something that Mrs Cleaver would have found that reassured her life keeping the beaver out of trouble and dinner ready for Ward was totally fulfilling. This has to make ne ask what is Willard's reality? A CEO of Bain does not know any women he could have named off the top of his head without resorting to collecting names like a kid collects baseball cards? Did he have to call down to his assistant and order some women to come in? More proof of a politican/Bain man trying to buy the office like a vulture hovers over their prey. Another Massechussets Myth--most opf the women he hired left office befre he left so what does that say about what kind of leader Willard was?
Posted by pdf65698156 | Wednesday, October 24 2012 at 7:53PM ET
He did not botch his delivery. He very well articulated his position in a manner much like my grandfather did about about a women's place in the world back in the early Ike years. Just what you bankers need, a return to the Bush years of regualtion so you can pocket tremdendous profits while you drive the economy into another great recession.
Posted by pdf65698156 | Wednesday, October 24 2012 at 7:58PM ET
My 2 Cents: Thank you for your post. For what it's worth, I don't often have very nice things to say about politicians in general, although I did thoroughly enjoy the VP debate this year - while not exactly Webster-Hayne, it was one of the most substantive political discussions I think I've ever seen on television.

But back to the binders of women ... pdf6598156, I would say that it's VERY plausible that a CEO of Bain, especially one who was CEO several years ago, wouldn't know many women he could name off the top of his head to fill important posts requiring specific skills. I've been writing about management and governance and the like for a long time, and when I started looking, it seemed like most women at senior levels held titles like EVP of Human Resources or EVP of Marketing or EVP of Diversity -- not that there's anything wrong with those positions, and certainly they are important to companies (no one's coming to work if the paychecks and benefits aren't being administered, for example) but in corporate America, the real value is placed on the producers, the revenue generators, the business line executives. While women are making inroads in these areas, many industries still lack sufficient concentrations of women in these roles. What's more, the women who are in these roles often remain outside the "club," lacking the informal networking that leads to board and government appointments, etc. So I do credit Romney, or his people back in Mass., for at least acknowledging this and deciding to do something about it so that more women would be on their radar screen. Thank you for your comments.
Posted by hlandy | Thursday, October 25 2012 at 10:11AM ET
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