Early indications that men might dominate the hierarchy of Obama administration have women’s groups worried, even as a growing chorus of advisers reportedly pushes Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state.
“There’s definitely been a reaction to the few groups that have been named so far,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. “I agree with those who are concerned that it would have been nice to see more women.”
Women’s rights advocates acknowledge it’s still early in the transition process, but they say early staff picks and the lists of rumored Cabinet nominees send the wrong signal.
“It’s appropriate that Obama’s vetting Clinton, but she’s one women,” said Amy Siskind, co-founder of The New Agenda, a nonpartisan women's rights group founded by former Clinton supporters. “We want to see parity in the representation of women in the Cabinet.”
Some women’s rights advocates believe the new administration is conducting a broad search across a diverse pool of candidates.
The Obama transition team asked NOW to send suggestions of qualified female candidates, according to Gandy.
“The transition team is going to take the time to look at and vet the people they don’t know,” she said. “Because frankly, the people who are already well-known in Washington tend to be men and tend to be white.”
The early teams released by the Obama administration have tended to be male-dominated. On Wednesday, four women and eight men were named to Obama’s transition advisory board. His agency review team is headed by seven women and thirteen men. And last week, Obama met with his key economic advisers — four women and 13 men.
So far, Obama has named four members of his top White House staff. Three are men – chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, press secretary Robert Gibbs and chief congressional liaison Phil Schiliro. And one is a woman – senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Additionally, Vice President-elect Joe Biden has named Ron Klain as his chief of staff.
The senior staff assisting with the transition is more evenly divided, with Jarrett, a mentor and close friend one of the three top aides overseeing it.
While Obama has not made any Cabinet appointments, the names that are circulating have worried some in the women’s rights community.
“I have been struck by how few women have been mentioned for high-level positions,” said former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin, who worked on the Clinton transition. “It’s still very early, so I don’t want to reach conclusions yet. But the rumors are a flashing yellow light.”
The mention of Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers is seen as particularly problematic. As president of Harvard University, Summers said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers. The controversial comment led to his ousting as president.
The backlash from women’s groups may have pushed Summers off the short list for Treasury secretary.
Only 33 women have held Cabinet or Cabinet-level appointments, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Bill Clinton holds the record for female nominees, appointing 14 during his two terms in the White House. He’s followed by George W. Bush, who put eight women in top-level posts.
“I don’t think it’s any longer a question of are there qualified women out there, but a question of identifying them and recruiting them,” Kunin said. “I just hope there will be a serious effort to have not only token women but a significant number of women in the administration.”
Aside from Clinton, the senator from New York who lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Obama, several prominent women are reporte to be under consideration for various high-level posts.
Republican Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is on several shortlists for Treasury. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and Clinton Justice Department official Jamie Gorelick are reported under consideration for attorney general or other posts. And Penny Pritzker, CEO of Classic Residence by Hyatt who headed up the campaign’s fundraising operation, could be named commerce secretary.
Other often-mentioned names include Jarrett, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Caroline Kennedy and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Appointing Clinton secretary of state could give Obama maneuvering room with female supporters when making other top-level picks. Women’s rights groups have urged the administration to reach beyond the standard boldfaced Washington names.
Next week, the Women’s Campaign Forum will launch appointher.com, a website focused on helping women campaign for government appointments.
The National Women’s Political Caucus is seeking funding to mount the Women’s Appointment Project. The campaign, first started in 2000, pressures incoming presidents to put women in executive-level posts.
Last week, Linda Basch, president of the National Council for Research on Women, wrote an open letter to Obama urging the president-elect to consider gender equality when making appointments. And Kunin wrote several columns on The Huffington Post, encouraging Obama to reach beyond his inner circle to find women candidates.
“Even when I appointed boards and commissions, I said I wouldn’t accept a list that doesn’t have women on it,” Kunin said. “You can find them, and you don’t have to lower your standards.”