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Dina Refki Discusses Mitt Romney’s Citing of CWGCS Report During His Town Hall Debate with Barack Obama

During his second debate with President Barack Obama, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney cited a 2004 study from Rockefeller College's Center for Women in Government and Civil Society (CWGCS) that provided a five-year trend analysis related to the gender, race and ethnicity of appointed policymakers in state government. Romney was referencing the report in response to a town hall meeting attendee’s question about pay equity for women.  

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Dina Refki, D.A.

“It was a thrilling moment which underscored the importance of the work we do and the need to continue that work until we achieve full parity,” said CWGCS Executive Director Dina Refki, who like millions of other Americans had tuned in from home to watch the much anticipated head-to-head.  Refki and her Center colleagues are committed to providing women’s leadership development opportunities and academic research that generates knowledge and provides analysis on issues facing women and girls. After the debate, we asked Refki for an update on the progress women have made in attaining leadership positions and influencing the policymaking process.

Was the governor’s statement that he had appointed more women to top positions in state government than other state leaders correct?

Refki:  In proportion to the ratio of women in the population, Governor Romney appointed more women to top advisors’ positions and to department leadership than any other governor in 2004.  54.5% of top advisors in the Governor’s office were women as opposed to 45% and 41% recorded regional and national averages respectively. 50% of the department heads were women as opposed to 35.8% and 29.7% recorded regional and national averages.

Why is this important?

Refki:  Gender diversity in leadership positions is extremely critical. At the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society, we have been working for decades to bring about balanced representation to leadership. Women are equal citizens and citizenship in a democracy requires inclusion. Exclusion hurts and stigmatizes women. It sends a message that women are not capable of performing the functions of leadership. Employment discrimination norms, fairness, and equality call for the appointment of more women leaders. The health of our representative democracy mandates bringing more balance to leadership. Lack of parity in representation destroys public confidence in government. When we do not see people who look like us, we tend to lose confidence in the institutions of government. Credibility and legitimacy of these institutions are compromised.

Governor Romney’s proactive appointment of women to policy-influencing positions is commendable, and so is President Obama’s record on appointments of women and minorities to senior political offices. Both men seem to demonstrate a commitment to gender diversity and women’s leadership.

It is equally important to pay attention to both candidates’ records on other policy issues that affect women disproportionately, such as access to reproductive healthcare, violence against women, pay equity, childcare, access to educational opportunities, and economic security. It is important to carefully assess what each man says he will, or will not do when he becomes president, whether he will preserve the gains women have made and will further advance women’s policy agendas or not.

What is CWGCS doing to encourage representation by women and to prepare them to be effective leaders?

Refki:  CWGCS conducts research and educational programming to fill the pipelines of women’s leadership, and to document the gender gaps in leadership. We currently have two programs that focus on leadership development and preparing women for careers in public office. The Fellowship on Women in Public Policy is a rigorous six-month, multi-faceted leadership development program for graduate students. It is designed to be a springboard for aspiring women leaders to pursue careers in public policy while increasing the capacity of New York State government and civil society. Over the last 27 years, the Fellowship has graduated 284 women who occupy public policy leadership positions across the state and nation. NEW Leadership™ New York strengthens policy knowledge and skills of undergraduate women, while positioning them to become advocates for change. This intensive week-long summer program fosters the principles of leadership through action, and guides participants’ community/campus action projects.

Are you encouraged by the trends you're seeing related to women in leadership and policymaking positions?  What work still needs to be done in order for women to achieve full representation in these arenas?

Refki:  We are nowhere near parity in terms of representation of women in leadership. The numbers show slow progress in women’s representation in elected and appointed political offices. We cannot just assume that gender parity will naturally and inevitably occur. Women must mobilize and proactively raise awareness about the gendered nature of political appointments, and hold political leaders accountable for excluding half the population who are equally qualified. We must also mobilize women to run for elected office. The decision to run for office is far more complex for women than men for various reasons including women’s perception of the competitiveness of the electoral environment, their de-valuation of their own competencies and qualifications, fear of inability to balance life and work, negative reactions to modern campaigns, and risk aversion. At the CWGCS, we tailor our educational programs to address these aspects and strive to shift those gendered assumptions about self and perceptions of the system.