Why Are Men in Congress Still Sidelining Women Staffers?

21 May 2015

Why Are Men in Congress Still Sidelining Women Staffers? 1

National Journal’s article that Some Male Members of Congress Won’t Be Alone with Female Staffers caused quite an uproar. This is a problem on both sides of the aisle, wherein “numerous women who work on the Hill say they’ve been excluded from solo meetings and evening events, a practice that could be illegal.” Author and commentator Anita Finlay says this is discriminatory and can also be a career killer: “This practice slows women’s advancement if they are excluded from events where male staffers are welcome.”

However, Shawna Vercher, political strategist and author, argues that “in this age of gotcha journalism, government officials have to protect themselves.” She points out that someone can snap a photo and turn something completely innocent into something incriminating. The story is out there and we’re off to the races.  That is all too true, but is this just an excuse for men not to exercise discipline and as Finlay puts it “keep their minds on the job.”

Per Sarah Mimms’ great reporting in her NJ article:

Sen. Susan Collins, who started her career on Capitol Hill as a Senate staffer in 1975, said she had never even heard of such a policy…

The Maine Republican said she was “just stunned” that some of her male colleagues would be so concerned about working closely with their female aides. “To me, that’s just extraordinary because of what it implies, the lack of professionalism that it would imply,” Collins said. “It implies that a man and a woman can’t have a completely professional, proper relationship. That’s just stunning.”

Collins said the reverse, to avoid having male staffers drive her around the state or meet with her privately, “never occurred to [her].” She laughed as she continued: “That’s why I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this because I can’t—I’m thinking of this male staffer who has been with me for 18 years in my hometown of Caribou and runs my Aroostook County office, and the idea that we wouldn’t be alone in a car together is laughable.”

Further, Rep. Steve Israel sings the praises of Tricia Russell, who 10 years ago started at a lowly entry level job and is now his chief of staff. Good to see some people don’t use fears about “negative assumptions” as an excuse not to challenge stereotypes about who can be in charge.

Things get a little hot in the igloo in our latest episode of Dare We Say!  Don’t miss it!

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