Women Leaders call for Obama to appoint a Woman to the Cabinet to head a Government-Wide effort to Achieve Equal Opportunity for Women

It’s looking very likely that President Obama’s cabinet will have fewer women secretaries than George W. Bush’s–hardly progress for women. Strangely, women’s organizations seem to have been very polite about this turn of affairs–at least so far.
Of the 15 departments in the current Bush Administration, 4 top posts are currently occupied by women, 2 of whom are white; one is African American and one Asian American. There is also a Hispanic man and the rest, 10, are white men.
Of the same 15 departments, Obama has so far picked 13, including 2 women (both of whom are white), 2 Hispanic men, 2 Asian American men, and 1 African American man. 6 are white men. There is so far no woman of color. 2 are as yet unnamed. With 5 men of color he is achieving racial and ethnic diversity with men but not with women. There is no Native American and only 1 African American.
The EPA Administrator has in recent administrations also been considered cabinet level. Bush currently has a white man in the Administrator position; Obama has picked Lisa Jackson, an African American woman now serving in a similar role in New Jersey. If confirmed, she would be the first African American head of EPA and the fourth woman.
Obama has also named Susan Rice as his Ambassador to the UN, a position not always considered cabinet status, but Obama has said he will treat it as such. Rice is an African American woman. Thus, as of now, there would be two women of color in his cabinet but neither would be leading a department.
Here’s how it stacks up.
Homeland Security–Obama nominates the first woman to head this quite new department, Janet Napolitano, current governor of Arizona; she is white. This department was formed in 2003, after the attacks on 9/11/2001
Justice–Eric Holden, first African American Attorney General, male
Veterans Affairs–Eric Shinseki, retired general, Asian American male (this position has never been held by a woman; Obama appoints first Asian American)
Energy–Steven Chu, scientist and Nobel laureate, Asian American male (Obama appoints first Asian American)
State–Hillary Clinton, white female, 3rd woman to be Secretary of State
Commerce–Bill Richardson, current New Mexico governor, second Hispanic male in this role (the current Secretary of Commerce is Cuban, making Richardson the first Mexican American)
Interior–Ken Salazar, current Colorado Senator, Hispanic male–would be the second Hispanic and Mexican American at Interior
Defense–Robert Gates–Republican holdover, white male (this position has never been held by a woman)
Treasury–Timothy Geithner, white male (this position has never been held by a woman)
Agriculture–Tom Vilsack, former Iowa Governor, white male
Health and Human Services–Tom Daschle, former Senate Democratic leader, white male
Housing and Urban Development–Shaun Donovan, white male
Education–Arne Duncan, white male
Labor–unnamed as of now–Mary Beth Maxwell may be in the running, she would be the first openly gay cabinet secretary; Jennifer Granholm, current Governor of Michigan, like Maxwell also white, and one or more women of color may also be in the running (Maria Echeveste and Linda Chavez-Thompson)
Transportation–unnamed as of now–a white woman and a woman of color may be in the running (Jane Garvey and Maria Contreras-Sweet).
It is still possible Obama will equal Bush’s current record of 4 women cabinet department heads if he appoints women to both Labor and Transportation, but both Bush and Clinton had 5 women who served as cabinet secretaries and Bush has had 6. To equal those records Obama would have to replace some of his men with women in the future.
The Clinton Administration had 5 female cabinet secretaries, of whom 4 served simultaneously: Janet Reno (Justice), Donna Shalala (HHS), Madeleine Albright (State), and Alexis Herman (Labor), and, in the first term, Hazel O’Leary (Energy).
George W. Bush has had 6 women cabinet secretaries, of whom 5 have served together in the second term: Gale Norton (Interior), Elaine Chao (Labor), Margaret Spellings (Education), Condoleezza Rice (State), and Mary Peters (Transportation) and, in the first term, Ann Veneman (Agriculture).
There are also several positions that are cabinet level or typically made so by the President: Vice President, EPA Administrator, UN Ambassador, OMB Director, Chief of Staff, National Drug Control Policy head, US Trade Representative. Of these 7, Obama has named 5, 2 African American women (mentioned above), and 3 white men. Drug Policy and Trade Rep are still to be named. These appointments (including the vice president who is elected but was also selected by Obama) bring the total cabinet positions, so far, to 22.
Of the 22 appointments 4 are still vacant. The 18 filled break down as follows: 9 white men, 5 men of color, 2 white women, and 2 women of color, or 14 men and 4 women (22 percent female), or 11 whites and 7 people of color (39 percent minority). Not quite looking like America yet. Even if the 4 openings were all filled by women, the breakdown would be 14 men and 8 women or only 36 percent female. Even that wouldn’t look like America.
In the Clinton Administration, the heads of OPM, the Council of Economic Advisors, the National Economic Council, and the Small Business Administration were all considered cabinet level at one point or other. Obama could follow suit to try to bring his number of women in the cabinet up. (Of these possible additional cabinet level appointments, 2 are already filled, with 1 white woman and 1 white man.) But of course Obama could create other positions and give them cabinet status. For example, he could convert Carol Browner’s position of Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change to a cabinet level position. One thing Obama could do that would appeal to women’s organizations and make a real difference for women in the United States would be to do what most countries in the world have done, and that is to create a cabinet level position responsible for coordinating all government policies with the aim of achieving equal opportunity for women (see request from women leaders to the President Elect and Vice-President Elect on December 16). As Obama is so fond of saying, it’s time we strengthen our ability to compete internationally. On women’s equality, the US needs to catch up to the rest of the world. This is the change we deserve.
Dr. Heidi Hartmann, President, IWPR