President Obama Could Use More Female Speechwriters

More women make smarter staffs.

By SHARE
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IN FLIGHT - JUNE 5: In this photo provided by The White House, President Barack Obama talks to Head Speech Writer Jon Favreau (L) aboard Air Force One June 5, 2009 enroute to Paris.

Plenty of people have written about the nearly all-male senior staff at the White House, and it's been well documented that the average pay in the Obama White House for female employees is tens of thousands of dollars less than that of male employees. Here's a suggestion for fixing both problems: hire more female speechwriters and pay them as much as the men. There are a number of good reasons for doing so, not least of which is that they may help improve the tone of the President's rhetoric.

Good speechwriters can write in his or her client's voice, no matter whether that client is a man or a woman. In that sense, gender shouldn't matter. But speeches aren't just about the speaker; they're also about the audience. These days, women make up the majority of voters, as well as huge numbers of small business owners, taxpayers, heads of households, and consumers. Hiring more women writers would be more representative of the president's audiences.

[ Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

While every speechwriter that the president hires should share his political philosophy, politics should be just about all they have in common. The best speechwriting teams come from all walks of life, a variety of religions, different regions of the country, and an assortment of hobbies and interests. That way, when the speech assignments are given out, the writers are a better match to the material.

For example, you'd want to have a baseball fan writing when the World Series winners come to the White House; a graduate from that alma mater writing when the president gives the commencement address; a native New Yorker writing the Al Smith Dinner remarks. When you do, the remarks come across as more interesting and authentic. Hiring more female writers—who may be working mothers, breast cancer survivors, and caregivers for aging parents as well as baseball fans, enthusiastic college alums, and native New Yorkers too, for example—will bring more experience to the table and more depth to the writing.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

More female writers might also help bring a different tone to the President's rhetoric. According to a 2011 study by researchers Anita Woolley of Carnegie-Melon and Thomas Malone of MIT, work teams that include more women perform better.

In a Harvard Business Review interview, Woolley explained:

Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do ... In theory, the 10 smartest people could make the smartest group, but it wouldn't be just because they were the most intelligent individuals. What do you hear about great groups? Not that the members are all really smart but that they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They're not autocratic. And in our study we saw pretty clearly that groups that had smart people dominating the conversation were not very intelligent groups.

President Obama certainly comes across as very smart, but being a good listener and having an open mind? Not so much. Maybe his speechwriting team has something to do with that.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

Malone added, "The standard argument is that diversity is good and you should have both men and women in a group. But so far, the data show, the more women, the better."

Of course there are exceptions—I can think of plenty of women on both sides of the aisle who are anything but conciliatory and good listeners. But I think having a few more smart women in the room when the White House's message is being crafted can't help but result in a more thoughtful and inclusive tone.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Does Barack Obama Have a Mandate?]

So the more women the better when it comes to a speechwriting team. Not just because they are more representative of voters, taxpayers and consumers, but because the team will work better together and the speeches they produce will likely be more open-minded and less combative—something we could use in Washington these days.

The president isn't served well by having so few women advising him. The start of a second term is the perfect time to fix it—and the place to start is in the speechwriting shop.