Don't Be Surprised by Obama's Beltway Boys' Club Cabinet

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Despite strides in women's representation in Congress, gender diversity remains a major problem throughout Washington's halls of power.

As noted hereand elsewhere around the web, President Obama's inner circle of cabinet members and advisers is becoming increasingly white and gray. Of the five announced departures from the Cabinet, only two are males (Geithner and Panetta). And recent top-level appointments have all been men. But while these statistics may come as a disappointment to some, the president's recent optics problem shouldn't be surprising.

As reported in Fawn Johnson's July cover story for National Journal, a majority of women in Washington still feel D.C. is a boys' club. While the number of men and women working in federal government are about equal, women are less represented in top level positions. As illustrated in the chart below, men outnumber women on the top half of the government pay scale, while women outnumber men on the bottom.

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Last summer, National Journal surveyed 717 women professionals in the beltway, and their answers make it clear: Women feel there are more opportunities for men in this town. Here are the highlights:

  • 73 percent of the women said that men have more opportunities to get ahead than women do.
  • Half said they had personally experienced discrimination at work because of gender.
  • 60 percent said it is harder for women to rise to positions of leadership.

But there has been some progress since July. In the November election, a record number of women and minorites were elected to Congress. But whether this has changed the composition of staffers in high-level positions is uncertain. As of last summer, when it comes to Congressional aides, the institution still favors men in key positions. As Johnson reports:

The number of women and men employed on Capitol Hill is roughly equal, but more than twice as many chiefs of staff are men. The disparity is even starker among Republican members, who employ more than four times as many men than women in their top staff spots. In offices headed by Democrats, the number of male and female chiefs of staff is almost equal in the House, while men still outnumber women 2-to-1 in the Senate.

Here's the one infographic that sums up the sentiment of women in Washington when it comes to gender and workplace opportunities. Click to expand.

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Brian Resnick is a staff correspondent at National Journal and a former producer of The Atlantic's National channel.

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