Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Feminist Bean Counters to the Rescue

Two aspects of Obama's economics and other early appointments and pronouncements have troubled me for some time but this afternoon's advance announcement that Ray LaHood, a mediocre white male Republican from Illinois, will be appointed Secretary of Transportation in the morning has finally pushed me over the edge and compels me to post an item.

Two warning signs in Obama's early appointments that women would not be treated well in the senior most positions and that women's needs would not be seriously assessed in policy discussions were the appointments of Larry Summers and Rahm Emmanuel. Neither is known for their commitment to enhancing equal opportunity for women. Having Emmanuel as the ultimate gate keeper in the White House was a bad sign for all future appointments, and having Summers as the inside-the-White-House-czar of economic policy was a bad sign for the content of economic policy, at least as far as meeting women's needs goes.

So what has happened since these major bad signs in the immediate post November 4 period? Of 15 department secretaries, 14 have been announced: 12 are men and 2 are women, for a ratio of 14 percent--lower than women's share of Congress (which itself puts the US at the bottom of countries of similar economic standing). The Department of Labor position is still open. Let us hope that it is filled with a better choice with regard to expertise and commitment to equal opportunity.

In the context of the economic disaster that is upon us, these last two jobs, transportation and labor, are very important to the success of the economic recovery program, to make sure grants and contracts are efficiently and fairly let and appropriately monitored. And to make sure women and women -owned businesses get their fair share of the new work created. Sure, you don't need to be a woman to be a feminist and you don't need to be a feminist to make sure women are treated fairly, but all the research evidence suggests it helps. And the construction industry is not known for equal opportunity for women. Moreover, our last great publicly-funded economic recovery program was also not known for equal opportunity for women--in the great depression of the 1930s women were dismissed from jobs and they got very, very few of the new public works jobs made available.

Feminist economists and other academics have been buzzing about the need for a fair economic recovery program for more than a month. Somehow, discussion of creating jobs in education, child care and health care seemed to morph overnight in Obama's language to almost exclusive focus on jobs in transportation infrastructure and retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient. Jobs in health care have become jobs to computerize records. Unless health care, education, and early care and development SERVICES are expanded, or jobs are created in other areas in which a substantial number of women have trained for and work in, women will not get a share of jobs commensurate to their share of unemployment (which was 42% in the third quarter of 2008). Economist Randy Albelda had an op ed in the Boston Globe in November on these points. Petitions making the same arguments have recently been circulated among historians and economists as well as networks of academics and activists working on caregiving issues (see The Take Care Net and Institute for Women's Policy Research websites, and These experts believe the economic recovery will not be successful unless women have access to a fair share of the employment and business opportunities, in areas both traditional and nontraditional for women. Moreover the petitions and their signers stress the need for good-quality jobs, jobs that include not only decent wages and health insurance but also family friendly benefits like paid sick time. With women 46 percent of the labor force, it would be folly to ignore job creation for them or to fail to create the kinds of jobs that can truly move our country forward.

One good sign is that on Friday the Obama Transition Team is slated to meet with leaders of women's organizations to discuss the economic stimulus package and proposals for economic recovery. I wonder if senior members of the economic team will be at the meeting and if, in view of appointments like Ray LaHood, which seemingly came out of nowhere with no discussion, everything isn't already a done deal. Several pundits have commented that so far neither Obama's appointments overall nor his recovery proposals give Americans anything to get positively excited about--there's no big vision in the recovery plan (nothing to capture the imagination). And there's not even basic competence in the appointment of Ray LaHood.

Of the 14 secretary appointments so far, 5 are minority men. There is not a single woman of color appointed to head a major department. Whoa. Why did I title this entry "feminist bean counters to the rescue"? I'm hoping another positive development will occur: that the person appointed to head the Labor Department will actually be a champion for workers of both genders and all races and ethnicities. I'm even hoping the ridiculously inept nomination of Ray LaHood can be stopped. There are many Republican policy makers who could make a substantive contribution at Transportation: Ray LaHood is not among them. And there are many women with expertise in transportation who could make a significant contribution to the economic recovery. If he gets that far, Ray LaHood is likely to serve as the joke of Obama's cabinet.

Moxie Momma


Anonymous said...

I particularly don't care if Obama, or any other President, has a woman in his cabinet. The test is not the diversity of his cabinet but whether Obama wants to work with him or her.
There is much too much handwringing over this issue of minority and unrepresented persons in the balancing of management teams.
If you are advocating that "all other things being equal, Obama should choose a cabinet that reflects my diversity views" then I say 'balderdash'. All other things are never equal and will never be.
We do not know what factors were taken into his decision making. Sex may have been an issue on this one, or maybe politics, or maybe partisanship. So let's all suck it up until we have a little evidence that the wrong person was selected for the position.

Anonymous said...

So Real Change...Iz thisit:

With women 46 percent of the labor force, it would be folly to ignore job creation for them or to fail to create the kinds of jobs that can truly move our country forward.

Implying that past performance was somewhat folly...somewhat ignoring women, not only in high placements, but in obtaining equal pay for equal work. (recently squashed by the Supremes as "too expensive" IIRC...just to remind us where somewhat male justice really sits.) Moving forward wrt "women's needs", then, somewhat impeded by old boys...esp Summers and Emmanuel.
Real change is gradual/incremental. [Not only an old boy sentiment, I swear.] Let's not confuse Obama's victory with some watershed Landslide Moment: 46% of Americans still voted for McCain...thanks to George's performance --and then Obama's, yes?
It is still a huge chance and although 2/14 is not the gender split we can be satisfied with in WH appointments, these appointments by and large have the respect of their industry peers...unlike the former admins choices based on loyalty, yes?

So Ray LaHood is a possible exception, thanks for the heads up.
I wonder how you, Moxie, feel about current Labor Secretary Chao...and all that progress (esp for women), in the past 8 years of skillful management of labor issues?

Anonymous said...

Obama's UN Ambassador, which will be a cabinet level position in his administration, is Susan Rice, a black woman. Get your facts right.

Bruce Webb said...

As is Lisa Jackson the nominee for EPA which I also believe gets cabinet status under Obama.

Then you have Nancy Sutley as head of the Council on Environmental Quality and Carol Browner as policy coordinator for energy and climate. Plus Heather Zichal who held a similar role to Browner's new one for the campaign and the transition will pretty obviously land in a top WH policy spot. And of course there is Valerie Jarrett.

The notion that Obama is stiffing women in general is kind of off the mark. In a lot of ways the WH Org chart is a lot more important than who gets a seat at the cabinet.

Anonymous said...

Author's response:

Tomorrow Obama will announce Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor, a female Latina member of Congress from California bringing the number of cabinet department secretaries who are women to 3 of a total of 15 now all named, or 20%. Please note these numbers refer to department secretaries only, not all cabinet positions. There are other cabinet level positions, some required by law others determined by the President, so the total number of those is not yet known. There are likely to be at least 7, of which so far 2 are women (Rice at the UN and Jackson at EPA), 3 are white men (Biden, Emmanuel, and Orszag), and 2 are still vacant (drug policy and trade rep). I believe Obama could have and should have done better. I hope the lack of women in leadership will not negatively affect the kinds of policies implemented, I fear it will. Suffice it to say that research shows that who policy makers are does affect what they do, at least on average.
from Moxiemamma (really, it's me)

DRR said...

Larry Summer's 'The Harvard Incident" aside, what is it about his or Emanuel's record that indicates a non support or a hostility to equal opportunities for women?