Is Obama’s Cabinet Too Male?

It's a legitimate question, but more important is whether his policies have helped women get hired outside the White House

  • Share
  • Read Later
The White House / Getty Images

The official photo of President Barack Obama and his Cabinet, July 26, 2012.

As President Obama continues to pick his new Cabinet, there is a growing chorus of disappointment about the lack of female appointees and his record of hiring women in general. During his first term, only 36% of Obama’s appointments went to women, and several of those appointees, such as Hillary Clinton and Lisa Jackson, are stepping down. By comparison, Obama’s record is better than President George W. Bush’s 19%, but it’s worse than President Bill Clinton’s 41%.

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote, “It’s passing strange that Obama, carried to a second term by women, blacks and Latinos, chooses to give away the plummiest Cabinet and White House jobs to white dudes.” MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell announced on Meet the Press that women in the White House “are not happy,” while CNN’s Soledad O’Brien went so far as to make a $100 bet with a former White House official that the 50 most senior people in the White House did not mirror the diversity of America. For its part, the White House released a statement saying Obama was not done filling his Cabinet and that overall, 50% of the staff positions at the White House are held by women, although it did not offer a reason for the inequity in high-level appointments.

(MORE: Would More Women in the Senate Mean Less Gridlock?)

But all this focus on Cabinet appointments is misplaced. The bigger question is whether the policies of the Obama Administration have improved employment and compensation for women both inside and outside the White House, and there are troubling signs that they have not.

Based on figures in the 2011 annual report of White House staff salaries, the most recent year for which this information is available, there was an $11,000 difference between what women and men earned. In the federal government as a whole, if the estimates from 2009 hold true today, women earn roughly 93% of what men earn for the same job. And not surprisingly, the picture outside the White House is even more troubling. According to a study released this past October by the American Association of University Women, among recent college graduates, women still earn about 7% less than their male counterparts in the same occupation.

This inequity may be surprising to some given the fact that during the presidential campaign, we heard quite a bit about the first piece of legislation Obama signed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The name of the law is a bit misleading. It doesn’t mandate equal pay for equal work. It just extends the period of time to file a discrimination suit if a woman has been paid unfairly for equal work. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which does make wage discrimination illegal, has been stalled in the Senate since last summer, and there are no current plans to move it along. As a result, there is nothing illegal about paying women less than men to do the same job.

(MORE: Will Family Issues Finally Get Addressed?)

As for employment, women seem to be worse off. During the first few years of the recession, men lost so many jobs that some took to calling the period a “mancession,” but they have since regained disproportionately more jobs in the recovery. Though the Labor Department has yet to release data for 2012, according to a Pew Research Center report, from June 2009 through May 2011, men gained 768,000 jobs, while women lost 218,000. What this means is that women held fewer jobs two years after the recession than they did the year it ended. This has led some to call the post-recession period a “he-covery.” And of course, it is worth noting that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, over the past two years, poverty has hit women far harder than men in each of the three age groups it studies.

Obama is widely supported by women, and he has made appointments and taken stands that justify that support. But instituting policies that make employment and wage discrimination illegal in the U.S. will move us closer to a level playing field than will adding more female Cabinet appointments.

MORE: Four Ways Women Won the 2012 Election

16 comments
peter204
peter204

While I am a strong supporter of women becoming more and more powerful within the political arena, I also believe that the best person for the job should get the job.  The real question to ask is are these men in the cabinet the best for the job or were they chosen over equally qualified women due to gender?  While I do not believe that Obama would make such discriminatory decisions, it something to consider.  What I find more concerning is the fact that it is still legal to pay women less than men.  How can this be if women work just as hard and perform the same duties? In such modern times how can we let the government put such things on the back burner?

ray3121970
ray3121970

This stuff has become very distorted. There is a great irony that Pres. Obama is being scrutinized to see if he has some sort of "balance" of ethnicities and genders. Surely, the point is not about quotas -- hasn't the Supreme Court decided on this enough times? -- but that people are given a fair chance at getting jobs they are qualified for and are not blocked because of something random, like the color of their skin, their gender, their religion. This quota mindset is counterproductive, as some of the comments where show.

UnclePhil
UnclePhil

I guess the best person for the job is too much to hope for. 

DredScott
DredScott

Nope, his cabinet choices are just fine by me...

screwedamerican
screwedamerican

According to Nina Totenburg, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer and of course the stellar Chris Mattews it is impossible for President Barrack H. Obama to make any sort of mistake at any time. Therefore his cabinet cannot possibly be anything other than perfectly perfect. Why TIME bothers to pretend otherwise is beyond me.

Jagmer
Jagmer

In Obama's previous cabinet, internationally the most famous person after the President was Hilary Clinton. Internationally she was far more famous, and got more coverage than his vice president, who I could not even name.

Jagmer
Jagmer

Women deserve places in his cabinet based upon their own abilities and suitability for the job, not affirmative action. There is nothing worse than someone being appointed just because they are female (unless the position is to specifically represent women). Token women members will not get taken seriously, they will be treated as tea ladies.

If women want to becomes members of his cabinet, then they have to work their way up the food chain. There are few women doing this, and so few women to choose from.

HelloLadies
HelloLadies

You bring up great points but I don't think the focus on the cabinet is misplaced. I think we should be questioning the diversity of the cabinet AND examining the administration's policies. Women shouldn't have to ask for one or the other.

malangrad
malangrad

More blithering from yet another useless fish.

Belisarius86
Belisarius86

This latter part of this article brings to mind an old headline from The Onion: "Armageddon Upon Us: Women and minorities hit especially hard."

3nigma
3nigma

If women hold staff positions instead of high-level positions, then the pay difference makes sense. People in high-level positions (more likely to be men) are obviously going to be paid more. Given that women are more likely to hold lower-level staff positions, it makes sense to pay them less.

DredScott
DredScott

QUALIFIED women deserve places in his cabinet. If all the BEST choices just happen to be male, so be it....

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

@3nigma Your argument would be fine if women operated according to logic, which they usually do not.

peter204
peter204

@ChikuMisra @3nigma I would like to know where your logic lies in this statement.  Do you have scientific proof that women do not think logically?  I know many women who have succeeded in life because they are very logical and have the capacity to do great things.