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In cabinet shuffle, British leader promotes women to top positions

The Palace of Westminster in London (Kirsty Wigglesworth - AP) The Palace of Westminster in London (Kirsty Wigglesworth – AP)

British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, tossed out his education secretary and promoted two women to his full cabinet and 10 women overall in a major cabinet reshuffle on July 15.

Cameron’s promotion of Nicky Morgan and Elizabeth Truss to his cabinet and his decision to allow employment minister Esther McVey the right to attend cabinet meetings means that five of the 17 full cabinet members and eight of the 27 members of his Conservative leadership team are women. Cameron pledged during his 2009 campaign that women would make up one-third of his administration. (He formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats following the May 2010 election.)

These three women bring diverse backgrounds to the government.

Morgan moves from Financial Secretary of the Treasury to take the position of Education Secretary from Michael Gove, who will become Chief Whip and Parliamentary Secretary. Morgan, a 41-year-old mother, is a former corporate lawyer who was elected to Parliament in 2010. She also holds the position of Minister for Women and Equalities.

With Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher then leading the British government, Morgan joined the Conservative party in 1989 with Thatcher as her role model. She voted against same-sex marriage last year, which may explain why she’s equalities minister but someone else — a gay man — is responsible for implementing the government’s same-sex marriage policy. Morgan has explained that her opposition to same-sex marriage is due, in part, to her Christian faith. She says she supports same-sex civil partnerships, but believes she believes that marriage should be  between a man and a woman.

Truss replaces Owen Paterson as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. At age 38, Truss is the youngest woman ever to hold a cabinet position. She was elected to parliament in 2010 and founded the Free Enterprise Group of Conservative members of parliament. The Oxford-educated Truss moves to Environment from the Department of Education, where she had been responsible for education and child care.

These two women join three others in Cameron’s full cabinet: Theresa May is Home Secretary, Justine Greening is Secretary for International Development, and Theresa Villiers is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Full cabinet ministers earn a salary of 134,565 pounds. Following the cabinet reshuffle, one woman, Baroness (Tina) Stowell, was set to be paid about 22,000 pounds less than her male predecessor due to salary caps. To keep gender pay equity for this position, the Conservative Party has said it will top up her salary from party funds. Stowell steered through the same-sex marriage law last year.

McVey will keep her position as Minister for Employment and Disabilities, but has achieved a promotion that allows her to attend Cabinet meetings. The 47-year-old McVey was elected to Parliament in 2010 following a career as a television presenter on the BBC and for GMTV. She has degrees in law and corporate governance and has built her own business. She’s the first member of parliament to employ an apprentice and is the author of “If Chloe Can,” a book of interviews with successful women.

Joann Weiner teaches economics at George Washington University. She has written for Bloomberg, Politics Daily, and Tax Analysts and worked as an economist at the U.S. Treasury Department. Follow her on Twitter @DCEcon.

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