This morning, Secretary of State Clinton introduced and endorsed Senator John Kerry as the next Secretary of State in front of the Senate panel who will vote on his confirmation. If confirmed (as expected), Kerry will be the first white male to hold the post in 16 years. While few have questioned Kerry’s credentials for the job, there has been concern about whether Kerry’s appointment – along with those of Chuck Hagel (Defense) and Jack Lew (Treasury), and paired with resignations of three cabinet-level women (including two women of color) and three cabinet-level men of color-- represents a trend toward a less diverse cabinet in President Obama’s second term. It is still too soon to say that Obama’s second term cabinet will be less racially and gender diverse than his first. By my count, Obama has seven cabinet-level appointments left to make, based on vacancies and resignations: Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Labor, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, United States Trade Representative, and Chief of Staff. Of the 16 other cabinet or cabinet-level posts, four women will keep their positions: Secretaries Sebelius (HHS) and Napolitano (Homeland Security), Ambassador Rice (UN), and Administrator Mills (SBA) are expected to stay on for the start of Obama’s second term.
While the President may still have opportunities to increase the diversity of his team, the rumored short lists and limited openings for these offices make it unlikely that Obama’s second term cabinet will top the eight women (35%) serving simultaneously during his first term. If so, he could buck the positive trend of the two previous presidents, who actually increased the percentage of women in their cabinets during their second terms. However, it is important to note that President Obama did appoint two women, including one Latina, to the Supreme Court, and included three women among the top six members of his White House staff (two Deputy Chiefs of Staff – one of whom is leaving next week - and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett). In 2010, Dr. Mary Anne Borelli wrote that, by 2009, “The inclusion of women in the cabinet had become the norm.” As more women have been appointed to cabinet and cabinet-level posts, the questions have shifted from whether or not a woman will be selected to how many women will serve, for what posts they will be chosen, and to what extent their voices will be heard in the most significant White House policy discussions. While the State Department has, in the past two decades, become a common home for female leaders, other influential departments – Defense and Treasury - have yet to see women at the helm. Amidst international conflicts and economic challenges, these cabinet posts are particularly important in guiding United States policy and ensuring national stability and strength. Gender scholarship argues that having diverse voices in those discussions is essential, both to representing unique constituencies and to bringing new perspectives, approaches, and styles to the decision-making process. More specifically, research on female appointees at the state and national levels has shown that women are not only more responsive to women’s policy concerns, but also more likely to bring more women to the decision-making table via their hiring decisions. In yesterday’s congressional hearings on the Benghazi tragedy, many House and Senate members remarked on Secretary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, and most applauded her staunch dedication to women’s rights and women’s security as a large part of her legacy there. Her accomplishments follow those of other female appointees like Secretary Madeleine Albright, who identified women’s rights as a priority of American foreign policy, Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps, who encouraged President Carter’s creation of an Interagency Task Force on Women Business Owners, and – of course – Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, who not only broke the glass ceiling for women in presidential cabinets, but also pioneered U.S. policy to protect the most vulnerable workers (especially women and children) and promote their economic security for generations to come through the Social Security Act. Perkins once reflected on her appointment by President Roosevelt in this way:
The door might not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time and I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.
As we enter President Obama’s second term, we will pay close attention to not only the number of women in the “high seats” within the administration, but also to the power and influence those seats are given in the four years to come. See CAWP's Infographic and Fact Sheet on Women and Presidential Appointments for more details.
Today, we watch as Barack Obama is sworn into his second term as President of the United States. Four years ago, Obama made history as the first African American to win a major party nomination for the presidency and, ultimately, take the oath of office. But President Obama wasn’t the only candidate to make history in 2008. Hillary Clinton won more votes (18,000) and more delegates (1010) than any unsuccessful presidential primary candidate in history. She made history as only the second woman to have her name formally placed into nomination for president at the Democratic National Convention, and left the campaign amidst speculation that she would run again in 2012 or 2016. That speculation has hardly died down and, despite Clinton’s own claims that her candidacy is unlikely, the most recent polls show Clinton as the most popular contender for the 2016 contest. As we celebrate the history being made today on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the women who have blazed a path toward the White House and the potential for a woman to take the oath of office in years to come. Two women became candidates for the presidency in the nineteenth century before they could even cast ballots themselves. Victoria Woodhull in 1872 and Belva Lockwood in 1884 were both nominated as presidential candidates by a group of reformers identifying themselves as the Equal Rights Party. As the first woman to practice law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Lockwood knew what it felt like to stand alone and did so again in her second presidential bid in 1888. It wasn’t until 1964, 76 years after Lockwood’s second bid, that Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith from Maine became the first female candidate to have her name placed in nomination for president at a major party convention, winning twenty-seven delegate votes from three states. Eight years later, in 1972, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm of New York, the first African American woman elected to Congress, became the first woman and the first African American to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency at a Democratic National Convention, winning 151.95 delegate votes.
Between 1987 and 2003, three women – Democrat Pat Schroeder (1987), Republican Elizabeth Dole (1999), and Democrat Carol Moseley Braun (2003) - put their names forward as presidential contenders, but all stepped off the trail before the first primary votes were cast. In 2012, Republican Michele Bachmann left the campaign trail 24 hours after placing sixth in the first Republican primary. In 2007, Ruth B. Mandel described the legacy of the women who ran for presidency in this way:
They made a claim on public awareness by attaching voices and living images of accomplished woman leaders to the idea that one day a woman could conceivably be president. Their actions made the idea less outrageous to conceive.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton echoed this sentiment as she conceded the Democratic primary, telling the crowd,
You can be so proud, from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States. And that is truly remarkable.
Speculation has already begun about who will run, and who can win, the presidency in 2016. Some women, most notably Hillary Clinton, are among the names being floated as serious contenders. Still, the presidency remains arguably the most masculine office in the land – presenting obstacles well-understood by the women who have run. As she fought to allow women to argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court over a century ago, Belva Lockwood said, “The glory of each generation is to make its own precedents.” While women have (slowly) worked to establish a precedent of women running for major party presidential nominations, our generation has yet to set a precedent of a female commander-in-chief. So as we celebrate the political history made today, let us consider the political history women have left to make.
Earlier this week, a colleague was speaking to a community group about women in the 2012 elections and CAWP’s work to increase women’s political representation. The first question she was asked, in light of the tragedy that struck Newtown, Connecticut just days earlier, was what role women in office would play in the ensuing legislative debate over gun control. Where do the current female members of Congress stand on gun issues? And does the increased number of women in office make it more (or less) likely that anti-gun measures will pass? There are no concrete answers to these questions, as “gun control” encompasses myriad types of reforms and the women in congress do not represent a unified bloc on this or any issue. But looking to history might be helpful to formulating hypotheses about what role women might play if gun control is, in fact, put on the legislative agenda. In 1994, Congress passed a ten-year assault weapons ban (AWB) under a title of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (HR 3355) by a vote of 235 to 195. At the time, there were 54 women in Congress – just 10% representation. Despite these numbers, women played a prominent role in the 1994 ban. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was the architect and chief sponsor of the AWB and worked tirelessly to get enough votes to attach it to the Senate version of the crime bill. In the House, women were disproportionately represented among the members whipping the vote to be sure that the bill included the ban.
When it came to a vote, 83% of the women in the House, and all but one woman in the Senate, voted in favor of the assault weapons ban; men were more evenly split, with 50% of men in the House and 59% of men in the Senate voting for the ban. Partisanship plays an important role in votes on this issue, but women in both parties were more likely to vote for the ban than were their male counterparts (see charts). Much has changed since 1994. Women have nearly doubled their representation in Congress – when the 113th Congress begins on January 3rd, women will take 18% (or 98) of the House and Senate seats. With that increase comes greater regional, racial, and ideological diversity among the women who serve. Probably most different is the increased conservatism among the Republican women who now serve, which may make it harder than it was 18 years ago to find bipartisan support for new restrictions on gun ownership. Because there have been so few gun control votes in recent years, one of the only indicators we have of potential support for such legislation is National Rifle Association (NRA) ratings. Based on grades given to members of the 113th Congress, women represent a disproportionate percentage of the House (34%) and Senate (37%) members labeled as anti-gun by the NRA. However, the NRA grades all 20 Republican women in the House and 3 of 4 female Republican senators as strongly pro-gun; one female House Democrat and one Democratic woman in the Senate are also given “A” grades by the gun lobby. The context (post-Newtown) and content (e.g. only targeting assault weapons) of any pending legislative debate matters and may yield votes that do not mirror these particular ratings, but only time will tell. What we do know for now is that Senator Feinstein has vowed to re-introduce an updated assault weapons ban when the congressional session opens in January and, if history is any guide, will fight furiously to garner support in both chambers. Some pro-gun members have already said they would be open to restrictions on military-grade weapons, and House Democrat Carolyn McCarthy (NY), a long-time anti-gun advocate, has vowed she will give “full force” to reform efforts and will “embarrass” President Obama if he does not stay true to his promise of policy change. It’s no surprise that these two women will be leading the charge to respond to recent gun tragedies. Both women know intimately the horrors of gun violence and have used personal tragedies to fuel policy priorities. Moreover, they represent constituencies beyond their geographic borders, speaking on behalf of women in the electorate who – based on yesterday’s Pew Poll - are significantly more likely than men to prioritize gun control over gun rights. It will take both men and women at all levels to change our nation’s policies around guns, and having more women in Congress does not guarantee movement in either direction – holding firm on rights or putting more restrictions in place. But, women – as politicians, advocates, and citizens - will be essential players in this national debate.
Just one week after 19 new women were elected to the United States House of Representatives, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held a press conference with the current caucus of Democratic women members to announce that she would once again put her name forward for the Democrat’s top spot in the House. Raising some eyebrows and eliciting heckles from the cadre of women on the stage, journalist Luke Russert suggested that her decision to stay on posed obstacles to leadership for younger members. After noting that the same question is never asked of men in leadership, the 72 year-old mother of five and grandmother of eight pointed to the gendered dimension of members’ ages:
"I knew that my male colleagues...had a jump on me because they didn't have children to stay home [with]. …You got to take off about 14 years from me because I was home raising a family."
Pelosi’s comments raise important questions to consider for today’s class of women officeholders. As has been historically true, do women enter office at later ages than their male counterparts? Are they more likely to wait until their children are older to run and serve? And, finally, what does this mean for increasing women’s representation? Let’s take a look at the newly sworn-in 113th House of Representatives. The average age of all members is about 56 years old, but the key statistic of interest for these questions is the average age at which members took office. In the 113th, the average age of taking office is just over 47 years old, but there is a significant difference between male and female members: women’s average age of entering the House is 50.2 years old and men average 46.7 years old upon taking their congressional oath of office. While not the 14-year expanse cited by Pelosi, this data demonstrates that women continue to enter office – in this case, congressional office – later than their male colleagues, which has implications for institutional seniority and leadership posts. When we include all members into these calculations, some of the most gender-significant age divides – those tied to childbearing and childrearing – may be disguised. Another cut at the congressional membership shows that about 19% of female members in the 113th took office at age 40 or under, compared to 25% of male members. Of the 83 freshman members (64 male, 19 female), 32 men and only 1 woman currently have children under age 18. Put more clearly, half of the new male members come to Washington, DC while their children are still at home and all but one of the new female members either have no children or have adult children. In survey responses, female state legislators are significantly more likely than their male colleagues to say that their decision to run for office was influenced by their children being “old enough.” Not only does this finding have implications for women who start their political career in the state legislatures before heading to Congress, but it also echoes Leader Pelosi’s sentiment regarding the unique responsibilities and considerations that women confront in making the decision to enter public office. Children and families are not the sole source of delay for women. Women’s motivations for office are more likely to emerge from issue involvement over time rather than a long-time desire to hold office, which is more common among men. Moreover, women continue to need greater encouragement to run for office, and often feel the need to gather greater experience and/or training than their male peers. Regardless of the cause for delay, women’s later entry into office at both the state legislative and congressional levels can have real implications for women’s institutional power, political advancement, and ambition and/or ability to seek higher office. At her November press conference, Leader Pelosi expressed hope for the next generation of women leaders, saying, “I want women to be here in greater numbers at an earlier age so that their seniority would start to count much sooner.” To meet that desire, more will need to be done to both encourage and enable young women to run for office. A nudge from the first female Speaker of the House is probably not a bad place to start.
- “Challenge yourselves.” - Kate Brown, Director of Center for Creative Learning at the Mississippi University for Women
- “You are the next generation of leaders.” – Heather McTeer Toney, former Mayor of Greenville, MS and Executive Director of the Women’s Institute for Excellence at Mississippi Valley State University
- “Self-awareness is always included in the definition of leadership.” – Carole Leland, International Leadership Consultant
- “Don’t let yourself think you can’t do something; let your heart tell you what you can do.” – Heather McTeer Toney, former Mayor of Greenville, MS and Executive Director of the Women’s Institute for Excellence at Mississippi Valley State University
- “Remember three words: be, know, and do. Be who you are. Know who you are and what you stand for. Take action.” - Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- “Respect does not come with the job title; you have to earn it.” - Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- “People don’t care how much you know until they know you care” - John Maxwell
- “Be willing to extend a helping hand even if they will advance beyond you.” – Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- “You can’t get to second base if you have a foot still on first.” – Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- Don’t be afraid to say “I was wrong.”
- If someone tells you “Good Job”, make them tell you why so you will know what to continue or repeat.
- You may need others’ help to achieve your goals, but don’t forget that others may need your help to succeed too.
- The road to success is always under construction.
- Team sports participation is important because it teaches you that you’ll lose sometimes, but you have to move on and try again.
- God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you speak.
- “If someone ever tells you something can’t be done, what they’re really telling you is ‘I don’t know how to do it’.” – Neely Carlton, former Mississippi state senator
- “Never ever ever burn a bridge.” - Sherry Vance, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens, and Cannada, PLLC
- “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker
- Challenge people if they say derogatory things about women.
- More people should challenge the world and our traditions.
- Your goal should be to be so good at what you do that others can’t ignore you.
- “Women can do what they want; they are made of an indescribable fiber.” – MS Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde Smith
- “If you want a job talked about, get a man. If you want a job done, get a woman.” – Liz Welch, Secretary of the Mississippi State Senate
- “Don’t tell someone no. Just accept the opportunity and become an expert in it.” – Ashley Buckman, Jones/Walker
- Capitalize on the opportunities you are given. They may look small in front of you, but they are huge behind you.
- You can’t put a dollar amount on experience.
- Develop relationships with the people you work with and also those involved with the position you want.
- You can’t be all things to all people. (Amen.)
- Be flexible. Nothing is going to go as planned. Don’t over plan your life. Let life come to you.
- Remember that a small change you make will make a large difference down the line. (Hello, butterfly effect.)
- Never compromise your integrity.
- Keep people’s confidences.
- Always give back. (Hmmm this sounds familiar… http://luckettmenow.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/always-come-back/)
- Always take chances to expand your knowledge.
- Keep your main themes to remind the people why you are there.
- Show your passion.
- If you say you don’t like/agree with something, make sure to offer a solution or alternative.
- Work together.
- Do your homework.
- Be focused and less vague when speaking on a point.
- Uplift and support your colleagues during the presentation and behind the scenes.
- Be aware of who you are around. Be formal especially when addressing those who have worked hard for the title they hold.
“We need more good women to run,” feminist icon Gloria Steinem tells The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick (Julianna Marguiles) on last Sunday’s episode. Until that point, Alicia had all but closed the door on running for State’s Attorney of Illinois, despite other attempts to persuade her by political insiders and prominent women like Valerie Jarrett. It was Steinem, however, whose endorsement may have made the difference in Alicia’s decision to run (or not), and only time (and another episode) will tell if she takes on the challenge. Watching a fictional female character grapple with the complexities involved in making the decision to run for office on prime time television is a new and important point of cultural progress. In this show, Alicia is a potential candidate not due to the death of a man (see Commander in Chief, Madame Secretary), but because she’s deemed best qualified and most favored to do the job (Yes, her husband is the governor - a worthy topic for another blog post). Moreover, her aversion to putting her name forward is not simply due to familial responsibilities, though she references the time crunch she is under (to which Steinem responds: “Show me a woman who isn’t overwhelmed”). She considers the impact of her potential bid on her business, her career, her personal principles (repeatedly saying “I’m not a politician”), and her family. That calculus is much more in line with research on women’s paths to political office, especially the “relationally-embedded decision-making”that CAWP scholars Susan Carroll and Kira Sanbonmatsu have outlined in their book More Women Can Run (2013). After analyzing survey data from state legislators throughout the U.S., they explain, “Women’s decision making about officeholding is more likely to be influenced by the beliefs and reactions, both real and perceived, of other people and to involve considerations of how candidacy and officeholding would affect the lives of others with whom the potential candidate has close relationships” (45). Which brings us back to Steinem. Carroll and Sanbonmatsu also find that encouragement matters to women, and it matters more in their calculus to run than it does in men’s decision-making. Moreover, the most influential sources of recruitment for women to run are political ones like party leaders, elected or appointed officials, or potentially prominent political activists. In discussions about women’s political recruitment, someone inevitably throws out a number of times that a woman needs to be asked to run before she actually does it; seven, three, five, we’ve heard them all. However, the research doesn’t point to any magic number of asks needed to spark a woman’s political ambition. Instead, the research shows that who asks, what case they can make, and how much support they provide can go far in moving a woman like Alicia Florrick from the “sidelines” to the ballot.