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Under Obama, a Skew Toward Male Appointees

RightMarch January 8, 2013

Annie Lowrey at the New York Times reports:

In an Oval Office meeting on Dec. 29, 10 of President Obama’s top advisers stood before him discussing the heated fiscal negotiations. Every one was a man.

In the days since, Mr. Obama has put together a national security team dominated by men, with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts nominated to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as the secretary of state, Chuck Hagel chosen to be the defense secretary and John O. Brennan nominated as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Given the leading contenders for other top jobs, including chief of staff and Treasury secretary, Mr. Obama’s second-term inner circle appears likely to be dominated by men.

From the White House down the ranks, the Obama administration has compiled a broad appointment record that has significantly exceeded the Bush administration’s in terms of appointing women but has done no better than the Clinton administration’s, according to an analysis of personnel data by The New York Times. About 43 percent of Mr. Obama’s appointees have been women, about the same proportion as in the Clinton administration, but up from the roughly one-third appointed by George W. Bush.

The skew was widespread: male appointees under Mr. Obama outnumbered female appointees at 11 of the 15 federal departments, for instance. It occurred at all levels of government service, from the highest-level advisers on down. In some cases, the skew was also deep. At the Departments of Justice, Defense, Veterans Affairs and Energy, male appointees outnumbered female appointees by about two to one.

“We’re not only getting better than previous administrations, but we also want to get better ourselves as well,” Nancy D. Hogan, assistant to the president and director of presidential personnel, said in response to the Times analysis. “The president puts a premium on making his team representative of the American people.”

The White House itself employs almost exactly the same number of men and women, and administration officials said they hoped to even out the ratio across the government and help ensure that future Democratic administrations have a diverse and deep bench of candidates for high-level jobs. Mr. Obama does have a number of women in his closest circle of advisers, including Valerie A. Jarrett, a senior adviser, and Mrs. Clinton. But in the White House, there are 6 women with top-rank salaries, compared with 14 men, according to a 2012 report to Congress.

Interviews with current and former members of the administration, both men and women, suggested that there was no single reason for the discrepancy, and several repeatedly spoke of the administration’s internal commitment to diversity and gender equity.

But several said that the “pipeline” of candidates appeared to be one problem. They said it seemed that more men than women were put forward or put their names forward for jobs. In part, that might be a result of the persistence of historical discrepancies: men have traditionally dominated fields of government service like finance, security and defense.

The Obama administration has helped reverse that trend by putting women in top policy-making jobs in traditionally male-dominated fields, officials said. “It makes a huge difference when you have women who are leaders,” said Celeste A. Wallander, who until July served as a deputy assistant defense secretary. “They tend to have networks of excellent women they can call on. It’s who knows whom, who worked with whom. You tend to have a palette of options, and you chose from whom you know. Those can also be gender-skewed.”

In many areas of government, the Obama administration has brought the gender ratio much closer to even than the Bush administration. At the Treasury Department, which has a longstanding reputation as a boys’ club, men made up about 57 percent of appointees, down from 64 percent during the Bush administration as of 2008 and 60 percent in the Clinton administration as of 2000. Moreover, women now hold some of the top policy-making jobs in the Treasury Department, including Lael Brainard, the country’s top financial diplomat, and Mary J. Miller, the under secretary for domestic finance.

But experts on the representation of women in government and business said that the White House had more work to do to ensure that women were more equally represented, including changing the work conditions within the administration. “It is not just a pipeline issue,” said Marie C. Wilson, a women’s leadership advocate who is the founder of the White House Project, a New York-based nonprofit group. “The pipeline in government has loads of talented people in it, and loads of talented women.”

She noted that women with young families, more so than men with young families, tended to drop out of jobs that demanded long hours — a trend also noted by administration officials. Perhaps as evidence of that skew, there were about 57 percent more male appointees than female appointees at the assistant or deputy assistant level.

Experts said that family-friendly policies, like paid maternity and paternity leave, might keep more women in administration jobs. “We’re the only industrialized nation in the world with no mandatory paid leave,” said Victoria A. Budson, the executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard. “This is about creating a better system of labor throughout the course of a person’s career.”

The Times performed a data analysis of the Plum Book, a government listing of political appointees that comes out once every four years. The 2012 version included about 4,000 named staff members appointed by the administration as of June, and excluded members of the career civil service and certain security-sensitive positions. Still, it provides a mostly comprehensive view of the Obama administration, from the Defense Department to the tiny Arctic Research Commission.

An analysis of a separate pool of federal personnel data found that the number of high-level female political appointees outside the White House was about the same under Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama, though it fell under Mr. Bush. Women held about 35 percent of those positions, like assistant secretary, in 2011 and 1999. Women held about 25 percent in 2007.

Experts on women in government suggested that more transparency might help equalize the gender ratio as well. “We know that to bring that level of leadership to 50 percent, we have to make a deliberate effort to find women and appoint them to that level,” said Dina Refki, the executive director of the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University at Albany. “Most of the time that deliberate effort isn’t made.”


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