BALOG COLUMN: Qualified women face a paradox

Well, this probably isn't what the folks at Project XX had in mind.

This is the week that candidates for college boards are being vetted by a legislative committee in Columbia. Project XX (Double-X) is lobbying for more women board members, because they are severely under- represented — despite being 51 percent of the state's population.

But as University of South Carolina board member Leah Moody told reporter Adam Beam in The State on Wednesday, she is not married and has no children.

“I can't imagine what's on most women's plates in terms of how they have to juggle their time. And you know, if you have kids, there are some priorities there.”

There's no reason to doubt that Moody is a solid board member. But as Sheryl Sandberg points out again and again in her book “Lean In,” nobody would say what Moody said about a male candidate with a job, a wife and kids. So, why is it OK to say it about a woman?

The answer, of course, is that it's not.

This kind of mentality does a disservice to women and men.

It sets women up for failure.

And it diminishes fathers and their role by implying that it's no big deal if dad is not around to be a dad, but it's catastrophic for a woman to not be around to be a mom.

Equally disturbing was the notion expressed by Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville, a member of the screening committee. “There are some women that we screened today that I felt like weren't qualified,” she said.

“I'd like to see more qualified women apply.”

It doesn't take a genius to see the paradox created here, that more women would need to serve on boards in order to become qualified to serve on boards.

Project XX co-founder Ginny Deerin is in Columbia this week for the committee screenings. Wednesday's candidates included those for the MUSC board, which currently has no women members. Susan Pearlstine faces Michael Stavrinakis — yes, Rep. Leon's brother — for a seat. Pearlstine told the screening committee that she'll never have as many connections as Stavrinakis, but she hopes that's not what the committee focuses on.

“This will be a case where it will be black and white,” Deerin said of that seat on the board.

Pearlstine's resume is substantial. In addition to her business background, she started volunteering at MUSC in her early teens. She is or has been a member of nearly a dozen boards, including the Children's Hospital board and the MUSC Board of Visitors, and she endowed a research chair at the school.

Stavrinakis is president of the Manny's restaurant franchises and is a member of the airport authority board. He also books gambling junkets. In his interview Wednesday, he painted himself as a small businessman.

As Deerin notes, one way to show your passion for the position is to shake a lot of hands. Another way would be to serve on relevant boards. By that score, the choice would seem clear.

Hopefully the committee can focus on what matters, and put an end to some of these double standards in the process.



Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.

Editor's note: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly identified Leah Moody. The Post and Courier regrets the error.

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