Guest Post by Jocelyn Crawley (author bio is available at the end of the article):
As made evident by the U.S.’s most recent election cycle, the nation’s political leaders can play a very integral role in affecting a woman’s ability to be successful in the world of business. This concept became very salient when, in discussing the persistence of the glass ceiling women still face in the corporate world, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made his infamous “binders full of women” comment. Although his comment warrants the type of extensive speculation required to write a graduate thesis, Romney’s statement will be briefly summarized here. In short, Romney claimed that he took strides to find qualified women who could fill positions in his cabinet that were formerly held by men. In recalling his efforts, Romney noted that he went to a number of women’s groups and asked if they could help him “find folks.” In response, Romney noted that they brought his people “whole binders full of women.”
As made evident by the commentary that resulted from Romney’s narrative regarding the persistence of the wage gap, many people felt that the Republican representative made poor use of language upon referencing women in context of binders. Indeed, speaking about women in terms of them being bound could easily constitute a form of linguistic sexism given the fact that it alludes to females being somehow contained, confined. Repressed. And-at this historical moment-women in America are indeed struggling with and against the economic oppression that results from the bondage engendered by the wage gap.
While Romney’s binder comment was significant both during the 2012 election cycle and this currently unfolding era, reflecting on the fact that he did not win the election leads to an important question that we should all consider carefully: Does the candidate who won the election really care about America’s businesswomen? With Obama having entered his second term as President, one wonders what types of structural changes he may be making that enable women to attain a greater degree of mobility within the business sector.
Although many viewed his passing of the Lily Ledbetter Act as a step in the right direction, gauging its efficacy in enabling women to attain compensation for receiving unequal wages will take time given that it has been law for less than five years. In addition to the efforts exacted by Obama through the Lily Ledbetter Act, the ostensibly woman-friendly President promised to implement a program entitled the Women Owned Business Contracting Program. Although a complex measure, the WOBCP can be simply defined as a program that encourages more women to compete for federal contracts. Additionally, the WOBCP would provide more support for women who own businesses and enact policies designed to reduce discrimination in lending practices against businesswomen. (While former President Bill Clinton signed the WOBCP into law, neither one of the Bush administrations implemented the program.) According to Politifact.com, Obama kept his promise and the measure took effect on Feb. 4, 2011.
In addition to his work towards leveling the playing field for women in business through the WOBCP, Obama has attempted to increase access to credit and counseling services for Women Business Owners. At this point, a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan is anywhere from 3 to 5 times more likely to be made to minority- and women-owned businesses than to traditional small business loans handled by the banks. In recognizing this reality, Obama expanded SBA lending by making over $7 billion in funding available through 29,000 SBA loans to businesses owned by women between 2009 and September 2011. The SBA has also opened 10 new Women’s Business Centers across the United States, totaling 110 centers that have trained or counseled more than 139,000 people in 2011. Most of the individuals who received training and/or counseling were economically disadvantaged and underserved women.
If businesswomen are not particularly impressed with the work Obama has done in previous years to advance the push towards economic equality and the development of more business opportunities for women, they might be moved by his speech at the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act this year. In discussing the need to develop tools that help women fight for equal pay, Obama suggested that Congress pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. This measure would place limitations on defenses made by employers’ for wage gaps between women and men and also make it easier to exact a class-action lawsuit regarding pay practices. Thus the Paycheck Fairness Act-like the WOBCP and SBA loan work Obama has done-seems to indicate that the President is placing primacy on enabling women in business to advance without one of the greatest hindrances the country currently grapples with: pay inequity.
As the 21st century continues to unfold, it seems that more and more businesswomen will be paying close attention to the promises-and implemented plans-of their political representatives. And since government officials such as the President have the power to penalize organizations that engage in discriminatory practices that hamper a woman’s ability to succeed in the corporate world or build her own business, we should all be watching Obama very closely.
About the Author
Jocelyn Crawley is a 28-year-old Masters of Divinity student who holds B.A. degrees in English and Religious Studies. Her work has appeared in Jerry Jazz Musician, Nailpolish Stories, Visceral Uterus, Dead Beats, The Idiom, Thrice Fiction, Four and Twenty, Kalyani Magazine and Haggard and Halloo. You can access her political blog at www.jocelyncrawley.com.