CEDAR RAPIDS — Possible GOP presidential contender and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina called Wednesday for creating a meritocracy — a pay structure based on productivity rather than longevity — as a way to improve the gender pay gap and increase women in leadership roles.
Speaking during a visit in Cedar Rapids, Fiorina said the pay structures of government and many private companies focus on seniority. But that disproportionately works against women who may enter the workforce late or leave for a time to have children, she said.
“Anyone who wants to harness the full power of human potential, of both men and women, needs to focus on building a meritocracy,” she said before about 600 people at the Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference at the DoubleTree hotel.
Iowans this week are getting a chance to have a first-hand look at Fiorina, who has scheduled several stops in the state. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday she will announce her candidacy for president on May 4. Fiorina, who hasn’t held public office, ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in California in 2010.
She’s the only woman in a wide-open field of likely Republican candidates, and could challenge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate, for those hoping to elect a female president.
“If you focus on a pay for performance system — a true meritocracy where people are recognized, paid and promoted, not on how long they’ve been there, but what they produced — women will rise to the top — not because women are better than men, but because they have half the human potential,” she said during her Cedar Rapids visit.
Fiorina, 60, offered an example from her experience running the computer giant from 1999 to 2005. She required every new upper level position by filled only after assembling a diverse candidate pool, she said.
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“People would come to me and say, ‘We can’t find a qualified woman or can’t find a qualified an African American candidate,’ and I’d say go back to the drawing board because they are there.”
Nearly half of her direct reports were women by the time she left the company, she said.
Fiorina focused her speech on empowering women and overcoming sexism and prejudices on her rise to the top.
She also shared her vision for managing budgets, funding education and regulating large banks. She compared her experience in the private sector with what she says isn’t happening with the federal budget.
“Imagine running a business where every department got more money every year whether they needed it or not, where there were no goals for performance, where there were no penalties for not performing, and where there was no consequences and by the way where you as an investor don’t know where your money is going,” she said. “I have just described honestly the U.S. federal government.”
She called for zero-base budgeting, where expenses each cycle start at zero.
“In order to prioritize money, don’t you need to know where your money is being spent?” she asked. “That is why I think we have to go to zero-base budgeting, Instead of spreading hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars on fraud, waste, abuse and corruption, which is documented year after year after year, we can invest in things that would make a difference.”
Fiorina also touched on education funding, in response to a question about early childhood education.
She questioned whether there should be federal mandates on how states spend education dollars.
“I have a big question as to whether it is helpful for the federal government to mandate to every state how they invest their education dollars,” she said. “We have spent gobs of money on the Department of Education, and yet we all agree quality of education has deteriorated.”
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