The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Donald Trump’s binder full of white men

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has been appointed to be the next attorney general. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Rep. Mike Pompeo.

Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Of the 66 names we’ve heard have been floated or confirmed for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet, 85 percent so far belong to men. They’re vastly white. Many sprang from the private sector. Many represent hard-right Washington. (Check out the full list here.)

This assembly, of course, is highly tentative. Trump is expected to pick 22 future leaders of the government by Inauguration Day, and we’re still two months away. It’s too early to say whether the next administration will be more gender-mixed or a total boy’s club.

By Friday, Trump’s candidate roster featured 10 women. They include South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arizona governor Jan Brewer and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. They’re all white, except for Haley, whose parents are Indian, and Sacramento first lady Michelle Rhee, the daughter of South Korean immigrants.

Trump the real estate executive has said that he filled top roles with women. Trump the presidential candidate announced an economic advisory team of 13 white men. The Trump campaign did not respond to The Washington Post's requests for comment. 

Critics say the look of Trump's roster doesn't reflect the American people. “That’s not just politically incorrect — it will lead to poorer decision making,” wrote Valerie M. Hudson and Christina Asquith this week for Newsweek. “And given that Trump has said he plans to expand the U.S. military and take a harder-line approach towards adversaries such as ISIS, it’s also potentially dangerous.”

Not that President Obama’s Cabinet perfectly matched the population that voted him into the White House: Thirty-two percent of his administration is female. George W. Bush’s team during his second term as president, meanwhile, was 18 percent female.

Last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau built a cabinet with an equal number of men and women. When asked why, he said, “Because it’s 2015.”

“By advancing these types of policies, we allow the people best suited to lead to rise up without being hampered by biases,” economist Florence Kondylis said of Trudeau's decision.

Hillary Clinton had pledged to do the same. She told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in May, “I am going to have a Cabinet that looks like America, and 50 percent of America is women, right?”

Research from Carnegie Mellon and MIT suggests that mixed-gender groups more skillfully solve problems than all-male groups, largely because diversity protects against perilous blind spots and women generally score higher on social intelligence tests.

Psychologists Anita Woolley, Thomas Malone and Christopher Chabris knew individuals varied in their cognitive ability. They wanted to understand whether some groups, like some humans, were smarter than others. They found in a 2011 study that groups with more women tended to perform better than groups with mostly men.

“In theory, yes, the 10 smartest people could make the smartest group, but it wouldn’t be just because they were the most intelligent individuals,” Wooley told the Harvard Business Review. “What do you hear about great groups? Not that the members are all really smart but that they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They’re not autocratic.”

In other words, she said, they possess traits women, more often than men, are socially conditioned to develop.

Another study from Duke University found that male leaders are judged more harshly when they ask for help, so they may be more likely to act on an impulsive decision, rather than seek out counsel from people better versed in a subject.

In a relaxed environment, researchers haven’t unearthed major differences in male and female decision-making. But Stephanie Preston, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Michigan, saw in her 2007 research that women, again and again, made more safe, advantageous decisions under pressure, while men, when faced with stress, were more likely to gamble and lose.

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