January 24, 2009 / Uncategorized

Does Obama’s Cabinet Look Like America?


The numbers below reflect the percentage of Arab Americans, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and women within the U.S. population, followed by the percentage of each group in Obama’s cabinet, based on 21 seats.

The last number is the difference in those percentages, shown as either a gain or a loss for equal representation in cabinet for that group.

Because no one has yet been appointed to take Bill Richardson’s place as Secretary of Commerce, the numbers are calculated for 2 and 3 individuals in the Latino group.

Arab Americans in U.S. population: 0.49%
1 Arab American in Obama cabinet: 4.8%
+/- +4.31%

Latinos in U.S. population: 14.3%
3/2 Latinos in Obama cabinet: 15.1% / 9.5%
+/-: +0.8% / -4.8%

African Americans in U.S. population: 12.38%
3 African Americans in Obama cabinet: 14.3%
+/-: +1.92%

Asian Americans in U.S. population: 5.03%
2 Asian Americans in Obama cabinet: 9.5%
+/-: +4.47%

Women in U.S. population: 52%
5 Women in Obama cabinet: 24%
+/-: -28%

(source | source)

Three of the five women in cabinet are women of color:

UN Ambassador Susan Rice – African American
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson – African American
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis – Latina

Even if Obama appoints a woman as Secretary of Commerce, women will still only be 28.5% of cabinet, when we’re 52% of the population, and every other group noted has close to equal representation.

Does Obama’s Cabinet Look Like America? Only if America is 76% male.


Is it that there are not enough qualified women, or is it that once the ethnic representation is satisfied, there are simply too many white men left hanging around the lobby, expecting to take their rightful place in power?

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  • Tina Neal

    Really interesting stats, can you reference your source(s)? Thanks.

  • NMK

    Nothing like data, and statistics. One just can’t say empower, or pat on the head, make nicey, goo goo words, brush it off, or flip one off with real data staring us in the face.
    Thanks, Sheryl.

  • Sheryl Robinson

    The population percentages for each group are from Wikipedia and census data (now linked more clearly).

    The distribution in cabinet comes from the Cabinet Watch tab at the top of the page, and Wikipedia entries on the appointees, and this article, and this article.

    (I also edited to reflect NMK’s comment below.)

  • NMK

    I’ve already emailed Sheryl’s article around to “my” list. I immediately got a reply from a person, Prof. of Spanish, who maintains that Hilda Solis “until-recently Congresswoman from California, very much identifies as Hispanic/Latino.”

  • Zee

    “only if America is 76% male”

    perfect! Thanks for this!

  • Constance

    The problem is definitely too many white men standing around waiting to take what they see as their natural place at the head of the line. No way are there not enough qualified women.

  • KendallJ

    Thanks Sheryl,

    These stats show once again that women are the most under represented in Obama’s cabinet. Great work! I suggest that we start drawing the connections between under representation and policy considerations. I truly believe that Clinton was 100% right when she said that equality will not be achieved until women have an equal number of seats at the table. Policy and representation go hand and hand! It wigs me out every time I see or hear these faux feminists like Naomi Wolf claiming that its”policy, not representation that counts.” This shit was debunked by real feminist years ago. I remember learning the difference in the 1980’s in my college women’s studies classes. It’s frightening that this basic truism isn’t a given in mainstream political thought.

    CNN has been doing all they can to turn back the clock on us. They literally run a tight race with MSNBC for the misogyny award this year. I wish that fair minded progressives would stop flocking there as if they are a credible broker on these issues. But then again, there aren’t very many credible outlets where the message can get out!! TNA is a bold brave voice in this regard and I am honored to be here. Thanks so much everyone!

  • Lili

    I have been chasing a comment on Obama’s recovery plan on the BBC website today:

    “The recovery plan suggests more than 40% of the new jobs should go to women and 90% of them should be in the private sector”


    Have downloaded the PDF file for the recovery plan (summary?) and can find reference to the private sector but not women. Anyone else seen this? You can find the PDF file link on this page just below the video:


    Should this have been posted somewhere else? Often there are interesting news developments that don’t necessarily fot in a current thread? Thanks

  • Lili

    Great information Sheryl – thanks for calculating that for us!


    Numbers leap out more forcefully than the written word as Sheryl’s great piece demonstrates. “A picture is worth a thousand words” so I am wondering if there will there be any way for us to submit graphical information to share with TNA members in the future?

  • Part of the problem is sloppy thinking. This always happens in the upper echelons of power. They think that people like Hilda Solis are “two-fers.”

    Does anyone remember that Good Times episode*, where James and Thelma go in for the same job and she gets it because she’s black and a woman? That’s what’s going on here more than white guys in the lobby or unqualified women, in my humble opinion. Lumping women in with ethnic minorities preserves more of the pie for the white guys. It’s an old, old game.

  • *really dating myself there, I know…

  • Good grief, I should preview before I submit…

    Scratch the white in front of guys up there. It preserves more pie for guys, period.

  • Fantastic post, Sheryl. Dayum.

  • Jeff

    Very interesting – to say the least. I believe there are more than enough competent women to make a truly balanced cabinet.

    I firmly believe sexism and homophobia are tied at the hip as well – and if you look there are no openly gay Cabinet members.

  • Anna Belle,

    Yes, it’s an old game from at least the 60s. The token minority is also the token woman. An unhealthy message for both minority men and white women.

  • Kiuku

    I agree with Constance.

  • Lili

    Women to have 40% of new jobs in Obama’s recovery plan? See my post at 4.54 pm today. The links kept me prisoner in moderation! Thanks to Sheryl for releasing me!

  • Anna


    Thanks for the link. (Sheryl, thanks for releasing Lili from Moderation Hell!)

    Read the short piece. After getting through the fluff part (Obama telling us what we already know – duh – unemployment, people are suffering, etc….sorry, but that makes me nuts…..to many it sounds as if he’s on top of things, but it’s just truly a bunch of bits of info that any 6th grader could find on the Internet, if not experiencing right in their own home, but I digress….), it was interesting because there were 4 bulleted points providing examples of the sorts of jobs he intends to create via his economic stimulus package and none of them sounded like sectors where women typically work. So, at the end, I wondered where they got the 40% number from.

  • Jeri

    Great segment on CNN this morning Amy! Thank you!!
    Did you hear that kook Naomi saying that she would rather have qualified people than a balance between men and women — so the translation of this is…”few women are qualified to serve with Obama”
    OY VEY! What is everyone pushing for for an alternative stimulous plan..? Women are talking are just beginning to focus on this… Good thing this came to light on CNN ! I was surprised that they did a piece on this this morning. Keep it coming!

  • Anna

    I’ve heard Naomi Wolf described on a few comments on a couple of different threads as someone with ADD, paranoid, a kook, along with sarcastic comments regarding her math abillities. Does it not seem like a self-righteous double standard to refer to another woman on the blog of a women’s rights org that, among other things, is working to stop the demeaning treatment of women, which includes the language used to describe them/us?

  • yttik

    From the letter sent to Obama by Rep Jared Polis requesting gender parity in the stimulus package:

    ….The Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCCP) enforces a “current goal for the utilization of women” of 6.9% of work hours, which was established in 1978 and extended indefinitely in 1980 and requires “federally-involved construction contractors with a construction contract in excess of $10,000 to take affirmative action steps.”


    Can you believe it??? Gender equity in federal contracts is only required to be 6.9% female???

  • Sheryl Robinson

    I don’t think women should be exempt from the same criticism or ridicule to which I would subject men who espouse opinions that I find specious.

    Anti-feminism is anti-feminism, and worthy of contempt, no matter the gender of the person from whom it issues. Naomi’s comments about policy over representation are, in my opinion, anti-feminist.

    Note that I’m not saying she’s not a feminist. I think she is a feminist, albeit a confused one.

  • Jeri

    Anna, you are right…instead of referring to her as a kook, I am changing the frame of reference I used to describe her commentary this morning on CNN, “describing women as not qualified to serve with Obama” as “surprising and disturbing.”

  • Anna


    I agree that everyone should be held to standards and critiqued when and where we feel it warranted. My point has more to do with demeaning ways of speaking about and describing NM, or any other woman, or any other person, for that matter. But, especially for a women’s rights org, it seems particularly meaningful if we are working to raise the level of discourse about women and about how women are spoken about, to avoid the same pitfalls that we are working against (i.e. how Palin and Clinton were treated, etc). For me, the problem is that it’s easy for the person doing the dishing to feel self righteous, as if, for example, Palin and Clinton were undeserving of the treatment they received, but Naomi Wolf is deserving of being labeled in demeaning ways. As long as we function in that mode of thinking, in my view, we get nowhere since, I’m confident, those speaking in disrespectful ways toward Clinton and Palin felt quite self righteous in their ability to defend speaking as they did. And so it goes round and round……Why not just challenge whatever aspect of another’s thinking one feels deserves to be challenged, leaving off disparaging ways of speaking about them? Isn’t that part of the model we’re shooting for here?

  • yttik

    In regards to the alleged 40% of stimulus jobs going to women, (which I haven’t found any proof of) I’m concerned about pay equity. I heard Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, say many of those jobs for women would be in healthcare and retail sales. Now that can mean a lot of things, but when I heard it I immediately thought nurses aides and sales clerks. Just over minimum wage jobs.

    Sheryl’s article above, does this look like America, got me thinking. For the cabinet, it would be great to have it reflect America. But for the Stimulus, not so much, we want it to go beyond reflecting America where women already work in the low paying sector while men work prevailing wage construction jobs.

  • Sheryl Robinson


    Naomi Wolf suggested on national television that The New Agenda is a Republican-funded front.

    In the more recent clip, she suggested that women need policies rather than parity in government.

    Criticizing or ridiculing her for these two uninformed and embarrassingly ignorant statements is not the same as attacking Palin or Clinton on unfair grounds.

    I really hope you can see the difference.

  • Sis

    And those “service” sector jobs are not union, have no health benefits, the women can’t take time off when her children are ill (once, and it better not happen again) will have no job security (out, right now we don’t need you) no perks like parking (but sure you can get 15 percent off your clothing, keep ya in debt to the company store) and they’ll find a way to get rid of you when you back aches from making 112 hotel beds every day and you backside begins to spread. They want eye candy. Or, women from third world countries who won’t complain, and can be black mailed into a bit on the side.

  • Sis

    So**y. I didn’t mean to drop my ‘r’s.

  • Paul

    GLBT Americans??

  • Paul,

    Sheryl – you can fact check this, but I believe that 10% of the population is homosexual or transgender. I think representation is much lower in the cabinet – possibly one (not overt).

  • Sis

    Anna, she made a comment that was the jumping off point for the Ramen Noodles post you enjoyed repeatedly.

    That comment of hers was either paranoia, which IS a medical symptom of untreated or under treated thyroid disease (did you see her weight, and her eyes?). And if it wasn’t paranoia it was malicious, and that isn’t medical.

  • Jeri

    On the stimulous discussion, regarding jobs that should be going to women…what do we all envision?

    High paying jobs
    Child Care
    Job Training programs to prepare women for these jobs..
    Infrastructure has a broader meaning for me …
    I believe providing a healthy foundation for people to live successful lives is also important infrastructure…
    Raising the wage rate for the important human service jobs in our country is also infrastructure….making sure invidiuals and families are safe is also infrastructure.

    What is everyone’s vision of expanding infrastructure..?

  • Digger


    I was just wondering the same thing. Estimates for the number of homosexuals run about 10% of the population, though I’ve heard those statistics for at least 20 years….

    Here’s the news blurb about Obama’s GLBT appointment (from The Bay Area Reporter, Jan 22, 2009 “Gay Man To Be Named to Top Whitehouse Post”):

    “Openly gay National Zoo Director John Berry is being named to head the Office of Personnel Management. It’s a tad short of the secretary of interior position gay leaders had hoped for but it’s the highest-ranking position ever for an openly gay appointee.”

    Two main constituencies that Obama has courted are not represented in his government. No one who is qualified? Please.

  • Sheryl Robinson

    There are many minority constituencies not represented in cabinet: Indo-Americans, Native Americans, gay and lesbian Americans, disabled Americans, etc.

    All these minority constituencies include women.

    I’d personally be happy to see more of all minorities, but we really need to fight for better representation of women, period.

  • gxm17

    I haven’t seen Naomi Wolf demeaned in the same way Hillary or Palin were. The real issue we should be concerned with is equal representation in the Cabinet and in the stimulus package. Naomi Wolf’s anti-feminist statements and support of a sexist candidate/President are impediments to the advancement of women’s rights.

    Good for Wolf if she’s doing something about demeaning language. She may want to start with the “Palin is a #@%!” t-shirts or even speech groper Jon Favreau. I wish her well.

  • My own wish list for the stimulus? Alternate energy hardware (and research). If money is to be spent to provide jobs regardless of profit, then I’d like to see it spent on projects that have lacked funding because they would not return a profit soon enough. FDR’s dams not only provided jobs at the time, they’re still providing energy.

    As for jobs and/or benefits for women, if I were spending some stimulus/baliout money, I’d start an all-woman research team to develop better contraceptives. Hire women who for one reason or another are not happy in the male-dominated institutions. Hopefully they would have fresh ideas.

    If the team finds better contraceptives, fund a new all-woman drug company to produce and market them; there are some low and mid level jobs for women.

    I almost hestitate to bring this up, but think what really effective and acceptable contraceptives could mean. Unwanted pregnancy itself becoming very very rare….

  • marille

    Sheryl, like your post.
    one mistake, you wrote 1 Arab cabinet member counts for .48 % representation. it should be 1 in 21 is 4.8% representation. that is actually over representation.
    also nicely the underrepresentation of women has whole. if you break it down with the minorities you have 2/21 African American women which is 9.5% slightly over representing the 6% African American women. 1 Hispanic women accounts for 4.75% fairly close to actual population numbers. only when you come to white women you have 9.5 representation for the approximately 40% white women in the population. that is serious under representation.

  • Sheryl Robinson

    marille, great catch. I corrected it. Thanks.

    And thank-you also for providing the breakdown for representation of women in each ethnic group.

    It’s all quite interesting.

  • ER

    Thank you Sheryl for the data and numbers. Data speaks!

    Suggested ACTION PLAN:

    1. Work for PARITY IN ALL GOVERNMENT AND PUBLICLY-FUNDED POSITIONS. How can we work to legislate this?

    2. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR WOMEN. The numbers are clear. It worked for minorities. Any lawyers and historians out there who understand how Affirmative Action was put into place in the past? Can we do the same for women now? What legal avenues can we take? (At a minimum, pursuing Affirmative Action for Women will keep the issue visible).

    3. Work to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. However, we need to work on many other levels at the same time! (see above).

    Together we are strong!

  • Lili

    Finally tracked down the origin of the statement that at least 40% of jobs created by the Obama recovery package would go to women. It is from ‘The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan’ by Professor Christina Romer and Dr. Jared Bernstein. It is an internal analysis for the Obama transition team and was published on the internet two weeks ago. It was originally available on change.gov, apparently, but that site has been closed. You can download the 14-page PDF document from here:


    It is an easy read and I am no economist!

    Romer and Bernstein estimate that the total number of jobs created by the 4th quarter of 2010 will be 3,675,000 (Table 4). Based on the assumption that jobs will be allocated according to the percentage of female workers currently employed in each industry (Table 5), 1,529,000 will be created for women by the 4th quarter of 2010. That works out to 41.6% of total jobs created by the recovery package.

    The authors point out in their introduction: “It should be understood that all of the estimates presented in this memo are subject to significant margins of error.”

  • KendallJ


    Looking at these numbers, I noticed that the representation of white men were not included. I can only imagine that they are way over represented. Furthermore, it looks like only two of the five women in Obama’s cabinet are white. Just looking at the raw numbers, this would have to mean that white women are the least represented of all. I find that ironic, white males being the most represented and white women being the least. I can only imagine that the over all numbers of white women is the most threatening to patriarchy. Equal representation resembling America would mean that a whole lot more white women would be in powerful positions. It seems the power differential between white men and white women is the most glaring. I wonder what this means.

  • ER

    KendallJ, thank you for pointing out the issue of white men and white women. Sheryl and others, can we get the exact numbers to post as well? White women may becoming the new minority.

  • Well, are we all surprised!! With the most frightening fact being that the position requirements fall alarmingly short when it comes to basic qualifications, value systems, ethics, experience….starting at the top down. On the plus side, and as a white legal American woman headed for being a minority, we just may become the recipient of some of those perks, sweet benefits, afforded to those “minority” groups, who don’t seem to be in the minority any longer. Right.