“A tour of duty through Congress or the administration is a virtual requirement for high-level policy and lobbying jobs, and that path has an equalizing effect on women’s employment in public policy. An added leveling component comes from the political correctness that fuels this town. Women matter as a voting bloc. They need to be represented, at least pictorially, in the power factions of government. ‘In government, the salaries are capped at the top for men, and women have a chance for reaching that top,’ said Heidi Hartmann, a George Washington University professor who heads the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and studies women in the workplace. ‘In Congress and the federal government, women are moving up and getting a higher share of the federal jobs,” she added. ‘It’s a continuing problem to still get in there on equal footing.’

The “but” that lingers in Hartmann’s analysis crops up in every conversation or query about the role of women in Washington. Women are indeed muscling their way toward the back rooms where the most important decisions are made. But the door is still closed much of the time. Even President Obama, who arguably is one of the most feminist presidents in U.S. history, is not immune to criticism. ‘ The people he plays basketball and golf with are male. Most of his Cabinet secretaries are men,’ Hartmann said. “There does still seem to be a sense in which the inner circle is frequently male-dominated.'”