Obama's Cabinet Should Be Half Women

An open letter to Obama: Having a diverse cabinet is not only fair but good for the country.
Dear President Obama,

The confetti has fallen. The pundits have quieted. And now it is time to get down to the business of rebuilding trust in our nation both at home and abroad.

As you roll up your sleeves and consult your most trusted allies about creating a team to take this country into a more secure future, I ask you to keep something in mind: the interests of the women who played such a decisive part in your election.

That means, first and foremost, making sure that your cabinet reflects the demographic of this country. It seems only fitting, after an election with such an unprecedented presence of serious, female power that you would pledge to assemble a more gender-balanced team. There are so many women leaders poised to step into cabinet positions right now -- women heads of universities, military leaders, ranking experts in the State department, in law, advocacy, and business and in the legislatures and governors' mansions across this country.

I ask this, not in the spirit of quotas or as some sort of consolation prize, but because I know that having a diverse cabinet is not only fair but good for the country; we need the most diverse perspectives, the most developed expertise, the most innovative thinkers. If you don't draw from half the population, how can you possibly create the most capable and enlightened government?

It also seems fitting that you would make this pledge -- as have others, like Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero from Spain and President Michelle Bachelet from Chile -- because of the historic nature of your own biography. As our first African-American president and with your international experience, you know the power of broadly representative leadership. Appointing a gender-balanced cabinet would be a bold first move in confirming your commitment to genuine change we can believe in.

I recognize that you are under a tremendous amount of pressure just now. The agenda is ballooning and the dollars are shrinking. The economy hasn't been this bad, as you yourself have said, since the Great Depression. We're in the thick of two seemingly unending wars. As you translate your uplifting campaign words into transformative actions, you will be facing a challenge of proportions not seen since Franklin Delano Roosevelt first wheeled into the White House.

You've got a lot on your presidential plate...which is why the insights of highly qualified women leaders are going to be critical in the days ahead. We have so long thought of "women's issues" as the so-called soft ones -- work/family policy, healthcare, education. These all top the lists of women's concerns, but polls show that the economy, foreign policy, and the environment are equally important to women.

When I look back at your senatorial leadership, your teaching and community organizing before that, it seems that you have always sought to deal with issues without confining them to a racial, class or gender perspective; you deal in shared challenges and community-based solutions, personal responsibility and unabashed interdependence, privileging -- not degrees and demographics -- but the best ideas and the most ethical thinkers. Your style -- collaborative, open-minded, sometimes called "feminine" -- certainly is a sign of the changing times.

I only ask that if you absorb so-called "women's issues" into the rest of your agenda, that you don't lose sight of them. Women in this country are terrifically vulnerable right now. We are disproportionately affected by the failing economy -- more likely to be in foreclosure and hold sub-prime mortgages (32% more likely than men despite better credit scores), more likely to be poor, earning minimum wage (68.4% nationally), and to lack adequate health insurance. We still earn less than men, still suffer from domestic violence, still struggle to meet our most basic reproductive health needs. These challenges are not unique to women, they affect families, communities, and the nation.

We are disproportionately vulnerable, but we are not victims. In fact, we have never been so poised to play a key role in transforming this nation -- and our fellow citizens are ready for this change. A recent Pew survey showed that a vast majority (69 percent) of the public thinks that men and women make equally good leaders. They also ascribed special leadership characteristics to women including honesty, intelligence, and capacity for hard work. As a proud son, husband, and father of powerful women, I know you need little convincing that women should play a leading role in this transformation.

And, of course, congratulations.


Linda Basch, President of the National Council for Research on Women
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