Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Few Good Women

Posted by Kim Klein

More than 30 years ago, I was asked to do a training for the board of directors of a community foundation in a fairly large city in the Midwest. Community foundations, unlike private or corporate foundations, are created to serve the community but also to be representative of it. The idea is that the needs of the community are probably best known by people who live there, and so the boards of directors and other decision making bodies in the foundation look, at least demographically, like the community. In this instance, the foundation was well established but wanting to dramatically increase its grantmaking capacity. This meant the board of directors had to raise a lot more money and my job was to help them see how to do that.
I was surprised when I came into the conference room to see about 35 people who were all white, all men, and all over 50. Although I did not know the community the foundation served very well, I knew that unless I had taken a wrong turn and was actually at the Vatican, this collection of people was not demographically representative. I asked if they felt they represented their community. “OH, yes” said the board chair. I said, “Interesting community you have in that case. How do you reproduce?” This caused much coughing and snorting by the assembled group. Finally another board member said, “We have searched for women to be on this board. Good women are hard to find.”

Of course, that was 30 years ago. I believe we have made progress in those three decades and so I was interested in what Romney said in the debate last night. In answer to a question about equal pay for equal work, Romney told a story about when he was governor of Massachusetts he saw that his cabinet had no women, so he instructed his staff to go find some. Clearly neither he nor his staff knew any personally--no wives, girlfriends, neighbors, classmates, sisters, or friends came to mind as qualified. But fortunately his staff were able to amass “binders of women.” And from that, presumably, Romney was able to find a few good women. So we have made progress—from the foundation that couldn’t find any good women to Romney’s staff, who, when pressed, were able to assemble a binder full. Just think, at this rate where we will be 30 years from now?!

The problem is that versions of Romney’s statement are heard more often than we would like to acknowledge. I can’t tell you the number of people who call me asking if I know “a diversity candidate” for a job they have open, or the countless board meetings I have attended where people say, “We need a Latino” or “We have to get some millennials” or “Does anyone know any disabled people?” I am grateful that I travel in a world where women are common, but I think all of us need to take seriously how segregated our communities remain, particularly around race.

Racial justice is central to issues of equity, and of course, equity is the driver of a healthy commons. So as we make fun of Romney, let’s not lose sight of the ways we may search for “binders” of certain kinds of people because we don’t know them personally.

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