Why it’s time for a majority female Cabinet
The election may not be over but on a near-daily basis names are emerging for a Biden cabinet and in Washington circles, it’s a source of endless discussion. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is apparently gunning for Treasury Secretary. Biden’s transition team has reportedly been vetting GOP leaders including John Kasich and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) for a possible “team of rivals.” The pressure on Biden, should he be elected, will be enormous from all sides of the political spectrum. But rather than fall into a fight over ideology, personality and loyalty, Biden can instead break ground, shift the conversation and set the stage for an era of transformational leadership by embracing a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something historic: appoint a majority female Cabinet.
There are only three women left in the Trump Cabinet (Gina Haspel, CIA; Betsy DeVoss, Education; and Elaine Chow, Transportation), fewer than almost any other administration of the last 50 years. But it’s not just Trump that has failed on gender equity. No presidential cabinet in the history of our country has ever reached parity. And around the world, only 14 countries have 50 percent or more women in ministerial positions.
If Biden is elected, it will be most certainly be because of women who are the majority of the electorate. By appointing 50 percent or more women from diverse backgrounds and extraordinary ability Biden sends a message that he not only speaks to progress, inclusion and equity, but he also models it. The history-making of the vice-presidential pick of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has enormous import. But it is not enough. Biden can prove to the U.S. and the world just how important women and women of color’s voices are to democracy. He also, in so doing, honors the millions of women who have made strides in every field and discipline yet still have not reached anything even close to equity.
Filling the presidential Cabinet with women is remarkably easy. In fact, the harder part is narrowing down to just one or two women for each. The point in presenting an all-female list here is not that the Cabinet should exclude men, only that men already dominate the list of nominees. Many will certainly be appointed. But to ensure at least 50 percent of women and women of color requires highlighting the many qualified women available for every senior post. We have highlighted 30+ stellar female candidates, 17 of whom are extraordinary women of color. The first four posts on our list have never been held by women and absolutely should be.
Chief of Staff: There has never been a female chief of staff and it is high time. Biden has many great options here though the name most often cited in DC circles is Ron Klain. Instead, he should choose Anita Dunn. She stepped in to help Biden turnaround his campaign after Iowa and has been one of his closest advisors on the campaign. She brings decades of White House experience dating back to the Carter administration. She is brilliant and disciplined and would bring rigor, integrity and trust to the West Wing.
Department of Defense: Michele Flournoy served as Under Secretary of defense under Secretaries Gates and Panetta. She’s widely respected and a stellar choice. A second no less powerful choice would be former Senator Claire McCaskill who served on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Treasury: As noted, Warren clearly wants the post but the appointment could create unwanted controversy at time when Biden needs it least. Lael Brainard is a luminary economist and serves on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors she’s a terrific and widely respected pick. Carmen Reinhard who was a Fed advisor should also be considered and would also be a strong choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, which has never been led by a woman. Other stellar options to break ground would be economists Sonal Shaw or Betsy Stephenson to lead the Council of Economic Advisors. There are many other highly respected women to be considered here. These posts should be filled by women.
Secretary of State: Susan Rice is more qualified and more prepared for this role than almost anyone else in government. Another great choice, Ambassador Wendy Sherman who was Undersecretary of State during the Obama administration.
Veterans Affairs: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) needs no introduction or explanation. No one would be better for this important role than her.
Department of Justice: William Barr has done huge damage to the DOJ, demoralizing career staff and undermining the credibility of the institution. Luckily Biden has many outstanding choices for exceptionally qualified women to restore credibility and independence to the department. Among them; NY Attorney General Letisha James, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates or Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.).
CIA: Avril Haines was the first woman to serve as Deputy Director of the CIA. She’s widely respected in intelligence circles and would help restore the reputation of the CIA at a critical time.
Homeland Security: Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-N.V.) would be the first Latina to lead Homeland Security at a time when the department has been roiled by horrific Trump administration immigration policies at the border and ICE, which is part of Homeland, has become an agent of fear and intimidation in communities of color. With a law enforcement background, she is uniquely capable. Another stellar option off the vice president shortlist is Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham of New Mexico.
EPA: Lisa Jackson: Having served as Obama’s EPA administrator, Jackson, who now leads sustainability for Apple, could help put the U.S. back on track to adhere to the Paris Agreement and importantly, begin the process of addressing the environmental issues uniquely impacting communities of color.
Labor: At time when labor and labor organizing has been eroded, appointing a Labor Leader like Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO seems exactly right. Another stellar choice, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) who was shortlisted on the vice president list and would bring s strong racial justice lens to the post.
SBA: Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) ran small businesses herself and understands first-hand the unprecedented challenges small businesses are facing in the COVID-19 era.
Interior: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) would be the first Native American to serve in the Presidential Cabinet and would bring the overlooked voices of Native peoples to the Interior Department.
Education: Biden has promised to appoint a former public-school teacher as Secretary of Education. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) was a public high school teacher before running for congress. She would be an excellent choice. Another option, CEO of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten.
Health and Human Services: Dr. Freda Lewis Hall is the former chief medical officer of Pfizer with vast experience in health care delivery, health equity issues and vaccine science. Given the disproportionate impact of the Covid crisis, the challenge of vaccine distribution and the impact of the crisis on people of color she would be a terrific choice.
Agriculture: Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) knows rural America and the challenges to farming. Despite losing her Senate seat in 2018, she is widely respected in the agricultural communities.
Commerce: Indra Nooyi retried recently as CEO of Pepsi, one of only a small number of women to helm a Fortune 100 company.
Transportation: Mary Barra, CEO of GM understands the infrastructure and transportation issues facing the nation.
United Nations: Biden has an important obligation to bring integrity to U.S. diplomacy and a number of stellar choices. He should consider career civic servants like Marie Yovanovitch, Linda Thomas Greenfield, or Fiona Hill.
Clearly, there are dozens of other women who could have and should be considered. The point is to start. It’s years past the time for gender equity in the highest levels of government. Here’s hoping that a President Biden heads the call.
Lauren Leader is Co-founder and CEO of All In Together, a non-partisan women’s civic leadership organization.
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