CARLY FIORINA TALKS PAID LEAVE, PRIVILEGE, AND THE PRESIDENCYCarly Fiorina
(Elle) – When Carly Fiorina outlines her vision for America, the presidential candidate uses a language in which she is fluent. She talks about “potential” and “entrepreneurship.” She calls for ambition and “performance.” She wants to see results. And she is determined to convince voters she knows how to get them. The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and only Republican woman in the race means business.
Earlier this week, ELLE.com sat down with Fiorina for an interview that addressed opportunities for women in the workplace, her prescription to fix race relations in America, and which government policies she says make it “too hard for people to move ahead in their lives.”
You’ve talked before about the real lack of support you’ve gotten from organizations of liberal women. To counter that, why should women be excited about your candidacy?
I think that there are a lot of liberal women’s organizations that are actually about politics. They’re about ideology. They’re not about “lifting women up.” It’s only certain women, and I think that that’s pretty clear.
I started as a secretary, and therefore I know the importance of creating environments where people take chances on women. When I was in leadership positions in places like Hewlett-Packard, for example, we put in place processes that ensured that women were given the same opportunities as men. The result of that was we promoted so many women that by the time I left half of my direct reports were women. I start with that to say that I know from experience that if you build real meritocracies—real pay-for-performance environments—and you give women an opportunity to perform and you reward that performance, women will rise. Women will get ahead.
But do you think women face unique obstacles in the workplace that need to be addressed?
Of course, of course. Women still are scrutinized differently, caricatured differently, criticized differently than men.… I’ve been asked questions all my life that a man would never be asked. And that’s been true in this presidential run as well. What clothes am I wearing? Do my hormones prevent me from serving in the Oval Office? A man would never be asked that.
There’s no question that women change the world. There’s just no question. The data’s clear. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Women are half the potential of this nation. They are half the potential of the world. But women still are underutilized. When we utilize all the potential that we have—of which women represent half—we’re all better off.
To access that potential, would you advocate for workplace policies like paid leave and childcare benefits?
Of course. Women are facing trade-offs still that men aren’t. And so a smart business will use every tool available to allow women to both fulfill their potential in the workplace and take care of their other responsibilities. The thing that’s interesting to me is that technology allows us to do this. Technology can create opportunities for flextime and job-sharing.
When I was the CEO of HP, we pioneered a program around job-sharing. Women loved that. It’s not right for every job. It’s not right for every woman. But there are women who want to stay engaged in the workplace, but they also want more time at home. And so we figured out a way to allow them to continue to stay engaged, to bring their potential—but to do it with fewer hours. It served everybody. There are all kinds of ways to unlock women’s potential in a way that makes those choices easier for them.
Rumor has it you write your own speeches, which is almost unheard of in presidential races.
I do. Every word.
What is that process like?
You know, I’ve thought about all these issues for a long time because of the experience I’ve had. So I spend time just thinking and then I start making notes. I’ll set it aside for a couple days. I’ll come back to it. When I write things down, it tends to help me clarify them in my mind. When I put pen to paper, it helps me think more clearly. And therefore it helps me speak more clearly, I think.
It’s been a tragic and complicated year for race relations in America. As president, how would you strive to bridge those really systemic divides?
You know, I think honestly Democrats have used identity politics to win elections—not all Democrats, but too many. And what I mean by that is they divide Americans into groups, and they say, “You’re a woman. You care about this issue. You’re an African American. You care about that issue. You’re Hispanic. You care about some other issue.”
I think we need to speak to all Americans about all the issues they care about. I got asked recently onThe View why I was a conservative. And I said, “Because I know no one of us is any better than any other one of us. Every one of us has God-given gifts. Every one of us can live lives with dignity and purpose and meaning.” I believe that. For example, African Americans are demonstrably worse off in the last six years. African American women are demonstrably worse off. I think we need to celebrate the diversity of this nation, but we also need to acknowledge that everyone—regardless of what they look like—is an American. Everyone—regardless of what they look like—is equal. Everyone—regardless of what they look like—has potential that we need to tap if we are going to be the greatest nation we can be. And so that’s how I want to talk to the American people. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, African American or Hispanic, you care about whether or not you have a good job. You care about whether or not you’re earning enough to make a good living. You care about whether your government is responsive. You care about the quality of your healthcare. You care about national security.
And yet despite the fact that we share so many of the same concerns and are entitled to the same privileges, you understand that African Americans are “demonstrably worse off” than white people. What kind of policies would you support to change that?
The programs that we’ve had in place for decades to help these communities aren’t helping them. That’s just a factual statement. We’ve got loads of programs, and they’re not helping.
One of the reasons they’re not helping is because we tangle people’s lives up in these webs of dependence. Let’s say you’re a single African American mom with two kids—I’ve met a lot of these moms—and you are earning $20,000 a year, and you’re dependent on food stamps to feed your kids, and let’s say you’re lucky enough to find a job that pays you twice that and gives you more hours and gives you a career path to move ahead. Everything that you’re depending on goes away, so the risk seems too high to you. In other words, we’ve created these programs where all of the incentives are to stay on the programs instead of providing incentives to move ahead. We make it too hard for people to move ahead in their lives. That’s the sad truth.
Here is another thing: The biggest job creators in the nation have always been small businesses—community-based businesses. We need to be encouraging the creation of entrepreneurship and small businesses in these communities. The policies that we’re pursuing right now do exactly the opposite, because government is so burdensome and so complicated. Those small businesses upon which communities depend—we’re now destroying them. And for the first time in U.S. history, we’re destroying more than we’re creating. The tragedy, for example, of a Ferguson is all those small businesses in that community that got destroyed. Those were job-creating businesses.
I was struck by a speech Hillary Clinton gave recently. She said, well, African American youth unemployment is at an all-time high, and we need to raise the minimum wage. We know from the data that if you raise the minimum wage above a certain level, it’s African American youth that are most punished, because it makes it harder for them to get that entry-level starter job. If they get an entry-level starter job, they can learn skills and move forward. But if they don’t have a chance to get that job, then they’re stuck.
I can’t say that I had the same experience as an African American youth trapped in an inner city. I can’t say that. I had the great advantage of having a terrific education. But what I would say is everybody has to start somewhere. Everybody has to get a job to start. We need to put people to work.