Obama’s Cabinet Diversity Record ‘Embarrassing as Hell’

The president has surrounded himself with white male advisers. Aren’t there any women, Blacks, Latinos or Asians qualified to sit on his Cabinet?

Why is President Obama’s new Cabinet overwhelmingly white and male? A recent group photo of Obama and his advisers in the White House published by The New York Times pinpointed what many have been noticing—a huge lack of racial and gender diversity. Is he shortchanging the millions of Blacks, Latinos and women who propelled his election win?

Public figures are weighing in with their dissatisfaction: Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said, “I think [Obama] can do better;” and Congressman Charlie Rangel said the lack of diversity on Obama’s team was “embarrassing as hell. … He’s had four years to work the bench, to work the second team, so that in the second term, these people should be just as experienced as any other American.” Watch the video interview with Rangel.

Is There Really a Lack of Diversity?

The three people the President has nominated so far—John Kerry as Secretary of State, Jack Lew as Secretary of Treasury and Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense—are all white men. With two appointments still in the works, the 16-member Cabinet will be at least 69 percent white and at least 69 percent male. (Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, a Latina, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a Latino, have announced their resignations, but replacements have not been nominated.)

“I’m very proud that in the first four years we had as diverse, if not more diverse, a White House and a cabinet than any in history,” Obama says. “And I intend to continue that.” A diverse team, he added, “helps to create more effective policy-making and better decision-making for me because it brings different perspectives to the table.”

“Women are well-represented in the president’s senior staff here,” Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, adds. “Two of the three deputy chiefs of staff are women. The White House counsel is a woman. A woman runs Homeland Security for this country, Secretary [Janet] Napolitano. … The Cabinet secretary in charge of the most important piece of domestic-policy legislation in a generation is a woman, [Secretary of Health and Human Services] Kathleen Sebelius.”


According to White House personnel data compiled by The New York Times, the Obama Administration has improved the number of women appointees by 10 percent to 43 percent, up from 33 percent in George W. Bush’s administration and about the same ratio as Bill Clinton’s (41 percent).

But with a campaign strongly based on a message of change—and diversity—Obama’s seemingly not happy with a meager 10 percent bump either. “Word from the White House is that the President himself is irritated, and demanding answers about the faces his staff is pushing forward. Unfortunately, he has only a bunch of white guys to offer an explanation of why the picture looks like a bunch of white guys,” writes New York Times Op-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd, a Pulitzer Prize winner. She notes that some women on the White House staff say they “are privately gratified at the latest kerfuffle, hoping it will shut down the West Wing man cave.”

Obama & Diversity: The Picture Worth a Thousand Words

Chatter about the Cabinet’s lack of diversity began building when Obama nominated several white men—Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State, Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense and, most recently, Jack Lew as Secretary of the Treasury—and news surfaced of two female Cabinet members’ resigning: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Solis.

The controversy came to a head when The New York Times ran a photo of Obama sitting in the Oval Office with 10 of his advisers—all 10 were male, and all but one were white. Senior Adviser and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls Valerie Jarrett was also in the room—but only part of her leg was visible in the shot because she was upstaged by one of the white men.

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Obama has been under fire since from a wide range of high-profile media sources: Bloomberg View’s Margaret Carlson says “He doesn’t look beyond his nose for more minority recruits”; The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus says, “About all those white guys: What a shame. Not an outrage, but a shame”; CBS News Political Director John Dickerson says, “Look, Mr. President, you won your election based on the votes of women and minorities, so you should respect that in your naming of the cabinet picks.” Fifty-five percent of women, 93 percent of Blacks and 71 percent of Latinos voted for Obama, according to CNN exit-poll data.

In May 2012, Obama similarly received disapproval for a photo of his majority white campaign staff; only two members were Black, which is far below the 13 percent representation in the national population and the 33 percent representation in Chicago.

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  • so its all about picking by color and not by what will make you successful. what was that MLK line?

    • Luke Visconti

      Read the speech—Dr. King said that when we reach the happy place where we are all sitting around the table in brotherhood and sisterhood, THEN we will be able to judge a person by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Obviously, we are not at that happy place yet, unless your assertion is that there could not possibly be any qualified nonwhite men. The stunning lack of diversity in these appointments is an extension of the last four years. As a start, this president should ask Governor Romney for his binders full of women. By the way, I’ve found that the “I Have a Dream” speech is the most misused speech in American history. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

    • No, it is not about picking by color or gender. I think that is missing the point. The argument is that it is hard to believe that out of all the people in the nation, there are only white men who are best qualified for these positions.

      Now let me say first. Be patient. I wanted Susan Rice for Secretary of State more than anyone. However, she pulled her own name. So there was nothing that could be done about that. Michelle Flournoy would have been a great choice for Secretary of Defense, but he chose someone else. There are still many more positions to be filled.

      If the President was to choose 50% female, or 50% African American for his cabinet, the dissenters would have been in uproar claiming that he was just pandering to the gender that helped get him elected.

      If you are going to jump on the President for diversity, then you must equally jump on the GOP. Out of all the committee Chairs in the House, only one was a woman and they had to mover her to that committee just so they could appoint her amid the public uproar.

      I understand that there is a great deal of hope invested in the President, but lets not get caught up in unrealistic expectations. He does not make every decision that I agree with, but I feel confident that he is always making well thought out choice. I will wait to see what the rest of his cabinet looks like before I pass judgment.

      • Luke Visconti

        I expect more out of this president, and just for the record, the economy is no longer George Bush’s fault. That’s over. I want 100 percent qualified with the diverse perspectives necessary to solve our nation’s problems. What we’re getting is a bunch of Ivy League insider/white men—just how we got into this mess. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

        • Dr. Robert Chan

          I’d rather see “ivy league and credentialed” individuals in the cabinet rather than a bunch of favors to people, just because of COLOR to satisfy the NAACP or black activists politicians like Sen. Rangel. What do you want … Al Sharpton and Secretary of State.

          Yes, maybe much of the error is our national strategies have been made by “ivy league and those credentialed white guys” … but still they were the most qualified.

          Obama did try to get qualified candidates of black and latino background, but all except 1-2 have dropped out after their back ground checks. I was not surprised, because most of the smart, well educated, non-activist, and successful want to stay away from Obama (like Susan Rice, Dr. Ben Carlson, etc). Why is that ?

          • Luke Visconti

            You’re naive to think that these Ivy League people aren’t the first to be selected because of favoritism, cronyism and elitism. As to your second point, Dr. Rice’s nomination was destroyed by wing nuts frothing at the mouth over the nonevent at Benghazi. Or should I say BENGHAZI!!! which has quietly dropped off the Kochbot radar. Dr. Carlson is the current Ward Connerly, a guy who makes cloistered bigots feel comfortable with their racist views. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • As a woman of color I’m disappointed by discourse that implies the President is not as interested in the diversity of his cabinet as he should be. I have no doubts about his character or intentions in his decision making on cabinet appointments, because he has believed and worked to actualize Dr. Kings dream his entire adult life. Dr. King’s focus was on identity being a barrier to opportunity and leadership. He was not interested in identity being the 1st priority. If you think there more qualified candidates for cabinet positions from those that he is recommending, name them. But don’t demean the President’s intellect, compassion or his effort to achieve the best for the American people of every identity group. By doing so you are judging his character based on the color of his skin and his gender. I do not accept this line of thinking as Dr. King’s dream. Step away from this agenda. In my 60+ years I have never witnessed a president that has worked as hard as this president has worked on so many difficult issue during such a turbulent period of social conflict. He needs our support. He doesn’t need any reminders about the value of diversity. He is the living example of Dr. King’s Dream. I am glad to be alive to bear witness.

  • The President, our president, is an example of choosing by the color of one’s skin rather than qualification in my humble opinion. I believe after the first term, he is now probably the most qualified person in the country for the job, but his first election was a “feel good” decision by a large number of intelligent and unintelligent citizens. Let’s not handcuff him with some diversity target and instead trust that he is making the decisions he feels are best for the country. Not that there aren’t other choices that may help this diveristy goal, but accpet that there are reasons why he did not, as yet, make those determinations. I would hope that all president’s make decisions that they believe are best for the country, whether they are right or wrong, or whether we agree with them or not, the best we can hope for is someone that does the best that they can with what they know, to lead the country forward. Not someone that allows any other criteria to influence their decisions.

    • Luke Visconti

      I don’t agree. I think he was elected to his first term because he ran a masterful primary against a woman who was actually more qualified than he was. This exposed his intellect and charisma to an American public that was desperate for both after seven years of war based on lies (or “flawed intelligence,” if you wish). There was/is, in fact, a sizable number of Americans who would not vote for the President specifically because he is Black. http://themoderatevoice.com/131050/how-many-votes-did-obama-lose-because-he-was-black-a-whole-lot/

      I am amazed at people who would come to this website and think there is preferential treatment given to nonwhite/non-male people—or that un/underqualfied people are promoted because of race or gender. There is no statistic I can find that says that you have nothing but a substantial benefit if you’re a white, heterosexual man without disabilities. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Randall Maginn

    Blacks comprise 13% of the population. Obviously, if they held 50% of the Obama Administration jobs, that would surely be considered racial favoritism. Blacks need to remember that they are a minority in a majority. Fair is fair. Get over it.

  • I agree, the white house should be diverse.
    The people in the white house should reflect the blood, sweat tears of
    the number of people that lost their lifes in the past 20 years in all these wars.
    The White House should be 76 white male, 1.8 female, 7 percent black, 14 percent latin, 3 percent asian. These are percentages from the government on the deaths during all the wars over the last approx. 20 years.
    Since women are 52 percent of the population they should fight the wars like the men.
    1.8 percent female deaths while young white males account for 76 percent is a disgrace.
    Jobs and wars should be more inclusive for all citizens. Start the draft so that all citizens
    including the elites can help their country. Protection of this country should not be for poor white males.

    • Luke Visconti

      I agree with you about the draft as long as there are no exemptions, so we don’t breed another generation of chicken hawks like Cheney, W. and Romney. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

        • Luke Visconti

          “I think I figure it out.” You are a dope. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

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