Obama Cabinet: Where Are the Women?


In less than two weeks, President Obama will place his slim fingers on President Lincoln’s, and for the first time, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s bibles and recite the oath that will reinitiate his reign as the 44th president. As the dawn of his second term approaches, liberal and conservative critics are scouring binders full of resumes searching for a woman to fill any vacant seat in the commander-in-chief’s executive cabinet.

For the first time since his decisive 2008 victory, everyone from journalist Soledad O’Brien to Representative Charlie Rangel are questioning President Obama’s commitment to diversity. In his second term, he has nominated Senator John Kerry of for Secretary of State, former Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, John Brennan to helm the CIA, and current White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to Secretary of the Treasury. Outside of their impressive resumes and dedication to public service, all of these nominees have two characteristics in common: male and white.

If the Congress confirms all of these nominees, the 16-member Cabinet will only staff two women — Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security Secretary, and Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

This unanticipated shift from a historic first cabinet, which featured the most women members in history, to an apparent “all-boys club” of white men from “East Coast circles,” has my fellow feminists and political experts bewildered and prepared to aim and fire criticism at the commander-in-chief.

Debbie Walsh, director of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics expressed her discomfort to CNN this week:“What you're hearing is that as new openings come up, there are missed opportunities to bring women in at that level.” She has a point. Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense, was bypassed for Hagel while Lael Brainard, undersecretary at the Department of the Treasury was overlooked for Lew.

Walsh’s criticism and those of other informed, concerned analysts is valid. Diversity in politics, particularly at the national level, is essential to establishing an atmosphere of critical analysis and effective policies. The executive cabinet should represent and reflect the United States, which is increasingly younger, browner and womanly.  

However, the assumption that after such a notable first term President Obama is not committed to promoting inclusive diversity is premature and inaccurate. A New York Times analysis discovered that about 43% of the commander-in-chief’s overall appointees have been women. He has focused his attention on increasing the solvency of the 105 historical black colleges and universities; appointed justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice to the bench; and included the coverage of contraception in the Affordable Care Act.

Minorities (immigrants included) and women are still priorities in President Obama’s administration, even if his initial appointments aren’t reflective of this.

In forthcoming days, weeks, and years, President Obama still has opportunities to nominate women for the positions in the Presidential Cabinet – and if the below infographic from NerdWallet is any indication, all hope is not lost.