I Witness Herstory: Biden’s Diverse Administration

Introducing the Women’s Museum of California’s new project, I Witness Herstory.

I Witness Herstory invites women to submit their reactions and experiences to developments locally, nationally and globally that effect women. The collection of these submissions will be used in future WMC programs to help educate and inspire current and future generations on the experiences of women.

What Local Women Leaders Say about the Biden Team

The Women’s Museum of California interviewed local women activists and leaders about Biden’s new team. We asked the following 4 questions:

  1. What is your reaction to the women proposed/confirmed for Biden’s cabinet and to those appointed to his administration?
  2. What added value do you think women bring to governing?
  3. What added value do you think BIPOC women bring to governing?
  4. What specific things do you want the Biden administration to do for women?

Over the next few weeks we will post their reactions to this historic moment in American government.

Want to help the Women’s Museum of California document women’s reactions and experiences living through historic moments? Submit your I Witness Herstory story here

“Looking Like America” – What Does it Mean and why Does it Represent Progress?

It’s been a long time coming . . .but it looks like we’re finally making progress. Biden said his cabinet and administration would “look like America” and he delivered. Women make up close to half of the Cabinet and about 60% of his whole team.

When it comes to communicating his message, Biden chose an ALL WOMEN team, headed by Jen Psaki, who hit the ground running by holding a press conference on the very first day of the new administration and regularly thereafter.

The most influential positions in any administration are considered to be the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security and the Attorney General (the Big 5). Depending on how the position is used, the Vice President may also be in the inner circle of influence.  It appears that Vice President, Kamala Harris, will be part of the inner circle. So, women (Kamala and Janet) now occupy 2 out of 6 key positions or numerically 1/3rd of the influence.

Biden’s team represents the following historic firsts.

Kamala Harris – first Black/South Asian woman Vice President

Janet Yellen – first woman Secretary of the Treasury

Avril Haines – first woman Secretary of National Intelligence

Deb Haaland – first Native American woman Secretary of the Interior

Pete Buttegieg – first openly gay man Secretary of Transportation

Alejandro Mayorkas – first Latinx man/ immigrant Secretary of Homeland Security

Rachel Levine – first Transgender person – Assistant Secretary of HHS.

Isabel Guzman – First Latinx woman – Small Business Administration

Other key positions to be filled by women are: Linda Thomas-Greenfield (Black) Ambassador to the United Nations. Gina Raimondo (White) for Secretary of Commerce, Marcia Fudge (Black) for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Jennifer Granholm  (White) for Secretary of Energy. Neera Tanden (South Asian) for Director of Office of Management and Budget

Key positions filled by nonwhite males include by Xavier Bercerra (Latinx) for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Miguel Cardona (Latinx) for Secretary of Education and Alejandro Mayorkas (Latinx) for Secretary of Homeland Security.

The fact that the White House Communications staff is all female speaks volumes. Getting the message out is critically important to the success of any administration – particularly in these divided times. The all female team (including women of color) illustrates the administration’s commitment to women and its acknowledgement that women are generally better communicators.

Why is it important to have Women and BIPOC people in Leadership and on Teams Important?

Over the past decade, businesses and governments have become much more attuned to diversity and researchers have studied what, if any, difference it makes. Bottom line – the research shows that more diverse teams are smarter. Why is this the case? One reason is that team members on diverse teams become aware of their potential biases that impede their ability to see and understand key information necessary to make better decisions. Organizations with more women were more likely to introduce radical new innovations. Organizations with culturally diverse groups were more likely to develop new products. “Group think” from a homogeneous organization discourages innovative thinking. (Harvard Business Review, “Why Diverse Teams are Smarter,” November 2016).

The landscape of governmental leaders is encouraging.  As of January 2021, there are 24 countries with elected women leaders.  In the United States, women currently hold 142 (out of 535 seats) in Congress – 118 in the House and 24 (out of 100 seats) in the Senate. Of these women in Congress, approximately 36% are women of color.  Although men continue to represent the majority of members of both federal and state governmental elected positions, women of color are winning more mayoral elections. Of the 27 women currently serving as mayors of the largest cities in the country, 10 of these mayors are women of color. (Women in Government: Quick Take. January 20, 2021, Catalyst.)

By Anne Haule, Women’s Museum of California Volunteer

Anne Haule is a lifelong feminist who continues to learn about and work toward dismantling the patriarchy. A retired attorney, Anne volunteers for a variety of social justice organizations. She enjoys writing  and writes a feminist essays for her blog, “Musings of a boomer- feminist”.

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