IN THE FINEST TRADITION of America employers, President-elect Ronald Reagan has cast his cabinet in his own image. So far the score is white males 11, women 0 and minorities 1. In case anyone is wondering what is going on, let us resurrect a quote from Alfred S. Bloomingdale, former chairman of the Diner's Club and a member of Reagan's kitchen cabinet.

"Ronnie asked us to consider minorities," he told Washington Post reporter Martin Schram, "Well, we got Hispanics. We got blacks. We got ladies. But if they're not right, we didn't take them. We are after quality first."

I should certainly hope so. The last thing we need running the country are people who aren't top quality, which is another way of saving most competent, best qualified, or the best possible hire. It is the same language you hear in American corporations, which have gotten to the stage of enlightment in which executives now say, "Sure we'd hire a woman [or black or Hispanic] if we could find one who was qualified."

Just what do we mean by qualified? What made Raymond J. Donovan, a building contractor from Secaucus, N.J., whose government experience consists of raising a potload of money for Reagan in New Jersey, more qualified than Betty Southard Murhphy, former National Labor Relations Board chairman, one of the few well-known Republican feminists who supported Ronald Reagan in the primaries? And what does James G. Watt, a Denver lawyer who runs an obscure 10-lawyer foundation that specializes in fighting the Interior Department, qualified to be Interior secretary at all?

Quality is in the eyes of the beholder. In politics, you get a certain quality about you when you make a nice campaign contribution or when you raise a lot of money and when you agree with the person who is beholding you, or when you run a foundation that is supported by some of the candidate's closest advisers. Hence the conservative fund-raiser and the conservative lawyer suddenly become the winners in the Reagan cabinet "quality-first" sweepstakes. s

Other businesses have other criteria. In the newspaper business, for example, editiors look for qualities such as good writing, good story ideas, good reporting skills, and determination. These are all subjective qualities and for a long time in newsrooms across the country it seemed as if the job applicants who had the best story ideas and the best reporting skills and the most determination were just like the editiors interviewing them: Nobody made much of a fuss about it until the early '70s when the few women in newsrooms formed caucuses and sued their newspapers. Some of them secured agreements from their employers that included hiring goals and now newspapers are trying to find qualified women job applicants.

The federal government has also had trouble finding qualified women applicants. During the last four years in which we had a pro-ERA, proaffirmative-action president heading the executive branch, the percentage of women holding GS13 and above jobs have merely risen from 5.1 percent to 6.7 percent, according to a survey by the National Women's Political Caucus. Only 10 women are in top positions in the Justice Department and the percentage has declined at the State Department. The highest percentage of women was found at the then-Health, Education and Welfare Department and the lowest at the Transportation Department, which tells you that Hollywood doesn't have a lock on typecasting.

It seems no one can find qualified women, and it has occured to some people who have looked into this phenomenon that this has more to do with who is doing the hiring than the qualifications of the applicant. Author Natasha Josefowitz, an associate professor of management at San Diego State and an industry consultant on affirmative action programs, calls this the "clonal effect."

"Every time someone is to be hired or promoted and there is a pool of available candidates, there are two criteria that enter into play," she writes in her book, "Paths to Power." "One is competence to do the required job; the other is the fit between the individual to be hired and the rest of the staff and organization. This is where the clonal effect takes place. The 'fit' deals with the comfort level the employer or employers feel with the person being hired or promoted . . . .

"An employer hires someone with whom he or she has a fair chance of getting along, of communicating well, or sharing basic values around such matters as work ethics, standards of quality, imagination, precision, punctuality, dress codes, humor, politics, and even leisure activities. The list is endless and so are the possible prejudices. Whom do we trust? Those whom we can understand, those who are most predictable to us. Who are they? Those who are most like ourselves."

So the Reagan cabinet ends up looking very much like Ronald Reagan, with the promise that one black will be included and perhaps a token woman, and they will be hiring subordinates who will end up being very much like them. The Reagan administration, as Mr. Bloomingdale put it, is after "quality first," and when it comes to quality, ladies don't quite fit.