Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Government Pipeline: Empty of Women?

Given the recent appointments of the Obama administration, including that today of Jacob Lew for the 76th US Treasury Secretary, some are asking questions about what happened to all that diversity.

The New York Times article mentions pipeline problems in the context of women applicants and that age-old need for mothers to be the hands-on parents with their children:

But Mr. Obama’s recent nominations raised concern that women were being underrepresented at the highest level of government and would be passed over for top positions.
For instance, many Democrats had hoped that Mr. Obama would name Michèle Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense, to the Pentagon post. They had also hoped that he might name Alyssa Mastromonaco or Nancy-Ann M. DeParle, who are top White House aides, to the chief of staff job, or Lael Brainard, an under secretary at the Treasury Department, as secretary. But speculation about the chief of staff position now rests on Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, and Ronald A. Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. For the Treasury position, most expect Mr. Obama to name his current chief of staff, Jacob J. Lew.

Interviews with current and former members of the administration, both men and women, suggested that there was no single reason for the gender discrepancy in administration appointments, and several repeatedly spoke of the administration’s internal commitment to diversity and gender equity.
But several said that the “pipeline” of candidates appeared to be one problem. They said it seemed that more men than women were put forward or put their names forward for jobs. In part, that might be a result of the persistence of historical discrepancies: men have traditionally dominated government fields like finance, security and defense.

 “It is not just a pipeline issue,” said Marie C. Wilson, a women’s leadership advocate who is the founder of the White House Project, a New York-based nonprofit group. “The pipeline in government has loads of talented people in it, and loads of talented women.”
She noted that women with young families, more so than men with young families, tended to drop out of jobs that demanded long hours — a trend also noted by administration officials. Perhaps as evidence of that skew, there were about 57 percent more male appointees than female appointees at the assistant or deputy assistant level.

The Salon article argues that the pipeline problem cannot be as bad as it was during the Clinton administration, yet the Obama administration has pretty much only matched what Clinton could achieve:

Still, leadership matters, and here we are with this top-level lineup of too-familiar faces. Hillary Clinton is gone, and we don’t have Sheila Bair, Michele Flournoy or Susan Rice (a pretty good selection given that “pipeline problem”) and another white man is expected to succeed Jack Lew as chief of staff should be become the treasury secretary. The numbers look even worse now that Hilda Solis, a Latina woman, has resigned as secretary of labor.
It's hard to know what the pipeline might look like now, as compared to the early 1990s, but it's certainly true that there are women who are qualified.  Susan Rice seems to have been Obama's initial  pick for Secretary of State  though he caved on defending her fairly early.

I have no deep thoughts on any of this except for the fact that until we are all used to the history of women in powerful jobs everywhere someone has to keep poking the powers-that-be in the back and reminding them of the fact that competent women exist.  Yes, it gets very boring very fast, but I don't see any good alternatives to doing just that.  The squeaking wheel and the oil, sigh.