A unique opportunity for more diverse representation in government
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A unique opportunity for more diverse representation in government

September 25, 2020 | Updated on July 14, 2021
Cora Martin

First- and second-term administrations have a unique opportunity after Election Day. The president-elect must fill thousands of top federal positions, giving them the power to increase diversity by placing historically underrepresented people in positions of leadership and management all across government.

Doing so would help federal leaders better reflect the country’s population. In 2018, women occupied only 34% of the government’s senior leadership roles and 33% of supervisor and manager positions, while nonwhite employees accounted for only 22% of senior leadership roles and 30% of supervisor and manager positions. Yet, women make up 50.8% and nonwhite people make up nearly 40% of the U.S. population.

A new term offers government the opportunity to better diversify its leadership. 

Importance of diversity in leadership

On a recent episode of Transition Lab, a podcast from the Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition, host David Marchick discussed the importance of diversity in leadership with Nina Hachigan and Jamie Jones Miller, members of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security.

“The data show that diverse groups in leadership are more creative. They’re more innovative. They’re more likely to avoid groupthink,” said Hachigan, former U.S. ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “If you have different points of view to bring, you’re likely to get better results.” 

The council aims to increase diversity at the top government level. “We are compiling a database of women who are qualified for the most senior Senate-confirmed roles,” said Miller, a former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs.

“We want to be sure that we have women of color,” she added. “We’re also putting together advice about how [an administration] can hire diverse teams, some of the tricks of the trade.” 

Historic presidential appointments

Initiatives like the Leadership Council for Women in National Security seek to build upon recent presidential efforts to diversify federal leadership. 

Over the past several decades, presidents broke barriers by appointing the first women and the first Black, Asian and Latino Americans to the highest positions at several Cabinet agencies. In 1996, President Bill Clinton appointed Madeleine Albright to be the first female secretary of state. In 2001, his successor, President George W. Bush, appointed Colin Powell, the first Black secretary of state, who was succeeded in 2005 by Condoleezza Rice, the first Black woman to serve in that position.

President Barack Obama continued to make historic appointments when he selected Hilda Solis as the nation’s first Latino secretary of labor in 2009 and Thomas Perez as the department’s second Latino leader four years later.

And, three years ago, President Donald Trump selected Nikki Haley as ambassador to the U.N, making her the first Indian American to serve in a permanent Cabinet-level position.

Despite these advances, women have still never filled 12 important positions in the federal government. Data on the civil service also shows people of color hold a smaller percentage of senior-level positions than their overall percentage of the workforce.

Whoever is elected in November will have an opportunity to remedy these issues, increase diversity in leadership and create a government that truly reflects the people of this country.

Learn more about presidential appointments on our blog:

Cora Martin is a former intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.