WASHINGTON — Behind the roiling conversation over whether President Obama might make Janet L. Yellen the first female leader of the Federal Reserve is an uncomfortable reality for the White House: The administration has named no more women to high-level executive branch posts than the Clinton administration did almost two decades ago.
The White House has taken steps to even its gender balance in recent months with high-profile nominations like Samantha Power as ambassador to the United Nations and Susan E. Rice as national security adviser. But by most measures of gender diversity, including the proportion of women at Cabinet level, the executive branch looks little different from 20 years ago, even as the House of Representatives, the Senate, and corporate America have placed significantly more women in senior roles.
“There’s room for improvement, and we’ve seen some missed opportunities,” said Debbie Walsh, the director for the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “We’re all watching the Fed to see what will happen there.”
Obama is choosing from a small pool of candidates for the Federal Reserve position, probably the most important economic appointment he will make in his second term. The finalists include Yellen, the Fed’s vice chairwoman and a former Clinton administration official. The favored candidate among several top Obama aides is Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary and Obama economic adviser.
Obama has named 13 women to Cabinet-level positions, matching the historic high achieved by the Clinton administration. Obama has also put a record number of women in judicial slots, including two on the Supreme Court. Women make up about 42 percent of confirmed judges appointed by Obama, compared with 22 percent appointed by George W. Bush and 29 percent by Bill Clinton.
Yet the ratio of men to women in the administration is where it was two decades ago, if not a little more heavily male. Women hold about 35 percent of Cabinet-level posts, compared with 41 percent for Clinton and 24 percent for Bush at similar points in their presidencies.
As of June 2012, 43 percent of Obama’s appointees had been women, according to a New York Times analysis of federal employment data. That is about the same proportion as in the Clinton administration, and up from the roughly one-third appointed by George W. Bush.