The first action Barack Obama took as president was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extends the legal rights of women who have experienced pay discrimination on the job. It’s something he mentions often, as he has cultivated a reputation as a female-friendly president. To be fair, it wasn’t that hard to do when the other guy was Mitt “Binders Full of Women” Romney. But as the New York Times reports today, his inner circle is currently almost 100% male.
Reporter Annie Lowrey begins her story at a crucial Oval Office meeting at the end of the year, in which Obama gathered his closest advisors to review the negotiations over the fiscal cliff. The official White House photo shows 10 men standing in a semicircle around the seated president. (Valerie Jarrett is also there, but she’s almost completely hidden in the photo.)
In the days that followed that bro-fest, Obama nominated Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, and named two other men to cabinet positions, too. “Given the leading contenders for other top jobs, including chief of staff and Treasury secretary,” Lowrey writes, “Mr. Obama’s inner circle will continue to be dominated by men well into his second term.”
Overall, about 43% of the Obama administration’s appointed jobs have been filled by women, which is better than the Bush administration. But it’s also no better than the Clinton administration. Compare that to how women have advanced within corporate America in the same time period: They’ve increased their presence on Fortune 500 boards by more than 50% since 1995, for example. Meanwhile, there are more women in the Senate and House of Representatives than ever before.
The Obama administration appointed more men than women in 11 of 15 federal departments; in the departments of justice, defense, veterans affairs, and energy, the ratio was more like two to one. Many current and former members of the administration praised the administration’s commitment to equality, and pointed out that Obama has placed women in top positions in male-dominated fields like finance and defense. So what’s the problem?
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.
Sound familiar? Ah, yes, ye olde pipeline problem. It’s a familiar refrain in the corporate world, too: Women simply don’t put themselves forward, and by the time you reach the upper echelons of power, there simply aren’t enough qualified women on deck. Well, perhaps. But as women’s leadership advocate Marie C. Wilson tells Lowrey, it’s often women with young children who have young children who drop out of the pipeline. Benefits like paid parental leave could make a huge difference in keeping promising women in their jobs in the administration. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for “better than Bush.”