But in the context of what women’s groups hope for — and expect — in a second Obama term, the answers aren’t all that mysterious.
The National Association for Women is pressing for a full half of the Cabinet to be made up of women — just like the U.S. population generally. NOW President Terry O’Neill says there’s no reason why it can’t be done. “Gone are the days when you really had to search high and low for qualified candidates,” she says.
There’s a chance, though, that the number of women in the Cabinet could dip. Of the five secretaries likely to depart soon — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson — two are women. Of course, others appear to be staying put for now, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and Small Business Administrator Karen Mills.
O’Neill says candidates such as U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for Secretary of State (whose potential nomination seems to be running into resistance among Senate Republicans) and former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair for Treasury would fit the bill. And there are women among the candidates being talked about for other jobs.
Obama’s record on hiring women has generally won praise, though reports from the early days of his first term had some female White House staffers feeling frozen out of his inner circle.
Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock says she expects Obama will “keep building on” his track record, citing the women in his first-term Cabinet and among his senior campaign staff (she pointed to campaign officials Jen O’Malley Dillon, Stephanie Cutter and Juliana Smoot as evidence of his continued willingness to staff up with women). And she thinks there’s a call for even more such hires.
“Last election was a clear mandate for women’s leadership,” she says. “Voters want to see women in the highest levels of government.”
Like O’Neill, she says the problem isn’t a lack of capable, confirmable candidates. “There are so many qualified women who are ready to serve – and the great news is that the guy who doesn’t need a binder to find them won the election. “