The Obama Cabinet Needs More Women

Don’t wait until it’s too late; let’s talk about sex (gender) now.

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I spoke with a former member of Congress yesterday about the paucity of women on the list of rumored Obama cabinet and White House staff appointments (I blogged about it earlier) and she pointed me in the direction of Ellen Malcolm's quote below, from a blurb by the Washington Post ' s Al Kamen headlined " Let's Talk About Sex" (I think the writer meant "gender"):

Women's groups are cheering the prospect that Hillary Clinton could be appointed secretary of state, but the number of guys in suits is making them a bit nervous about how many women Obama will appoint to senior administration jobs.

"It is a continuing vigil until the decisions are made," said Emily's List founder and president Ellen R. Malcolm. "It's a nervous-making time, because you look at the list of people that are in the press and it's obviously a lot of men and a couple of women. . . . The appointments really are the first big signal that the new president is going to pay attention to women in a serious way."

The pool of high-profile women for top jobs is large, affording Obama ample opportunities. In addition to Clinton, there's Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano for either attorney general or head of the Department of Homeland Security. "Those two have tremendous depth of experience . . . and really have demonstrated that they know how to get things done," Malcolm said. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is also talked about for a Cabinet post.

Kamen's list goes on. Clearly there's no way President-Elect Obama's folks can claim the pool of qualified women is too small. That's so 1970s. There are women eminently qualified to serve as Secretary of Defense or Treasury. A woman in either post would break new barriers for the Obama administration, as women voters helped him break the race barrier in the White House. My conservative friends spout GOP rhetoric averring that gender should not be the preeminent criterion for cabinet posts. Of course it shouldn't! But a disproportionately small percentage of female appointees also speaks volumes about the administration's attitude towards women.

Now is the time for women leaders to keep the administration-elect considering gender diversity in the appointment process. The warning signs are, so far, not terrific. If women leaders wait until the cabinet appointments are publicly announced, it's too late.

  • Click here to read more by Bonnie Erbe.
  • Click here to read more from the Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
  • Click here to read more about the Obama transition.