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Women’s Progress In Cabinet Positions Has Stalled Since Janet Reno

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Janet Reno, the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, died on Monday, the day before the nation is likely to elect Hillary Clinton as its first woman president. Reno was appointed by Clinton’s husband, Bill, to serve in his first Cabinet, which had the most women in history at that point. (Besides Reno, Bill Clinton also appointed Madeleine Albright, Donna Shalala and four others to his Cabinet or to cabinet-level positions.) Since then, though, women’s progress has been halting, according to data collected by the Center for American Women and Politics that is updated through May 2015. Though President Obama appointed Hillary Clinton to serve as his first secretary of state, each of his terms had a lower percentage of women in cabinet-level positions than the corresponding term of Bill Clinton’s (albeit a higher percentage than the corresponding term of President George W. Bush.)


Obama has appointed women to one-third of cabinet-level positions, far short of women’s share of the population. He has also nominated women for two of three Supreme Court vacancies during his term, including both successfully confirmed nominees. (Three of eight current justices are women, and they are three of just four women who have served on the court in its history.) Obama’s Cabinet is closer to gender parity than Congress, where women make up less than one in five members of the House and Senate. But while Congress is still decades away from gender parity if current trends hold, the recent trend for women in cabinet-level positions is even less promising; no one knows how that might change if it’s a woman making the appointments.

Carl Bialik was FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.