Why putting 13 men in charge of health care is a lousy idea.

Why putting 13 men in charge of health care is a lousy idea

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY JENA MCGRE­GOR jena.mcgre­gor@gmail.com

Repub­li­cans’ ef­forts to re­peal and re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act have sparked outrage for the lack of women among their ranks or at the de­ci­sion-mak­ing ta­ble.

First there was the widely shared photo of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ Free­dom Cau­cus, meet­ing to dis­cuss a ver­sion of the GOP health-care bill, that showed only men. Then there were the pho­tos of Pres­i­dent Trump and House Repub­li­cans cel­e­brat­ing pas­sage of their health-care mea­sure in the White House Rose Gar­den, which also showed mostly white men.

Now many have raised eye­brows over a work­ing group of sen­a­tors who are draft­ing and moving ahead on their ver­sion of the bill. The rea­son is sim­i­lar: The group’s 13 mem­bers are all men.

In re­sponse, Republican aides have sug­gested that crit­ics are too fo­cused on how the group works in­stead of its out­comes. An un­named GOP aide told CNN, “We have no in­ter­est in play­ing the games of iden­tity pol­i­tics. That’s not what this is about,” adding that the group would “work with any mem­ber of any back­ground who wants to pass a health-re­form bill.”

Af­ter crit­i­ciz­ing the group, CNN’s Erin Bur­nett read a fuller ver­sion of the state­ment in which the aide de­tailed pol­icy dif­fer­ences be­tween the com­mit­tee, say­ing “to re­duce this to gen­der, race or ge­og­ra­phy misses the more im­por­tant point of the di­verse seg­ments of the con­fer­ence the group rep­re­sents on poli­cies.”

A voice mail left with the press of­fice of Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.) and an email sent to a spokesman for Sen. La­mar Alexan­der (Tenn.), the Republican chair­man of the Se­nate’s Health, Ed­u­ca­tion, La­bor and Pen­sions (HELP) Com­mit­tee, were not re­turned.

Yet one re­searcher who has stud­ied how diver­sity af­fects group dy­nam­ics says diver­sity of thought or ap­proach to pol­icy — though help­ful — usu­ally aren’t enough to pro­duce the best re­sults. Katherine Phillips, a pro­fes­sor at Columbia Univer­sity’s busi­ness school, has stud­ied how small group dis­cus­sions ben­e­fit from what she calls “sur­face-level diver­sity” — the vis­i­ble dif­fer­ences be­tween team mem­bers — in com­ing up with broader and more in­no­va­tive ideas.

“It’s al­most like a trig­ger in the room, this salient iden­tity,” she said. Hav­ing vis­i­bly dif­fer­ent peo­ple to­gether, such as women, means the sen­a­tors might think, “‘Well, huh, what would my daugh­ter think about this? Or my mother?’ even if that per­son doesn’t have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion.”

Her re­search put peo­ple in groups to try to solve a mur­der mys­tery. Some of the groups had all white mem­bers, and oth­ers in­cluded peo­ple of dif­fer­ent races. There was a com­mon set of facts, but each mem­ber also got their own clues that only they knew. To solve the mur­der, all the in­for­ma­tion needed to be shared.

She found that the groups with racial diver­sity did sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than all-white groups. “Be­ing with sim­i­lar oth­ers leads us to think we all hold the same in­for­ma­tion and share the same per­spec­tive,” Phillips wrote in a Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can ar­ti­cle in 2014.

Sim­i­lar re­search by oth­ers has found that when a black per­son presents a dis­sent­ing idea to a group of white peo­ple, the white peo­ple see the idea as more in­no­va­tive and as a cat­a­lyst to con­sider more al­ter­na­tives than if a white per­son had said the same thing. The vis­i­ble dif­fer­ences be­tween the peo­ple pro­voke them to think dif­fer­ently.

Phillips’s re­search has fo­cused on race, but she says the con­cept also ap­plies to gen­der. “My re­search would sug­gest even if the fe­male se­na­tor doesn’t say some­thing dif­fer­ent, that it would trig­ger the men in the room to con­sider that there may be al­ter­na­tive view­points.”

GOP aides say that hav­ing peo­ple with dif­fer­ent views on the conservative spec­trum is diver­sity, but Phillips says it’s harder for that to have the same ef­fect. “One of the things about ‘diver­sity of thought’ is it has to be ex­pressed con­vinc­ingly — it has to be heard. You can­not be guar­an­teed that it’s go­ing to be salient to peo­ple,” she said. “Whereas racial diver­sity and gen­der diver­sity is vivid. You can see it. Be­ing on the sur­face al­lows it to have an im­pact psy­cho­log­i­cally.”

Mar­i­anne Cooper, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at the Clay­man In­sti­tute for Gen­der Re­search at Stan­ford Univer­sity, says other re­search shows that adding new­com­ers to a group might make peo­ple less con­fi­dent in their re­sults but that the re­sults are of­ten bet­ter. “When we go into a di­verse team group, we’ll pre­pare more. We ex­pect there to be a back-and­forth. When ev­ery­one in the room looks like you, you as­sume ev­ery­one has the knowl­edge.”

Cooper also points to re­search that shows another draw­back to hav­ing fewer women rep­re­sented in the group. “When it comes to pol­icy cre­ation, there are lit­er­ally stud­ies on what women talk about on the floor in Congress,” she said. Women of both par­ties have been shown to ad­vo­cate for breast cancer re­search, she said, and Republican women have been shown to bring up women’s is­sues in floor speeches more of­ten than Demo­cratic men.

“They’re much more likely to speak more openly about these is­sues,” Cooper said. “If women politi­cians in the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment are more likely to speak out, and if they’re not in this group of peo­ple cre­at­ing pol­icy, then we can ex­pect their per­spec­tive is not as well rep­re­sented. Per­sonal sto­ries re­ally do mat­ter in this de­bate.”

The de­bate about the lack of women in the GOP’s of­fi­cial work­ing group comes as the more gen­eral ar­gu­ment for hav­ing more women at the ta­ble has gained trac­tion. In­vestors are urg­ing com­pa­nies to add women to their ex­ec­u­tive ranks not sim­ply be­cause it looks bad if they don’t but also be­cause more di­verse boards and man­age­ment teams have been linked to out­size fi­nan­cial per­for­mance, bet­ter ad­vice and less risk.

So what do the five fe­male GOP sen­a­tors who aren’t part of the health-care group think about it? That’s not yet clear, but one of them — Su­san Collins (Maine), a mem­ber of the Se­nate’s HELP Com­mit­tee — says she in­tends to work on the mea­sure.

“I spent five years in state gov­ern­ment over­see­ing the Bureau of In­surance many years ago, and I think I can bring some ex­pe­ri­ence to the de­bate that will be help­ful,” she said Mon­day, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times.

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Pres­i­dent Trump and a mostly male group of House Repub­li­cans cel­e­brate the pas­sage of their health-care mea­sure.

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