Diversity in Presidential Cabinets
From the Least Diverse in 30 Years to the Most Diverse Ever
by Richard L. Zweigenhaft, Guilford College
Posted March 2021
How diverse is President Joe Biden's cabinet? For more than 25 years, in three editions of Diversity in the Power Elite (1998, 2006, 2018), Bill Domhoff and I have been tracking diversity in the corporate, political, and military elites. This has included systematic looks at the extent to which presidential cabinets have changed, from the all-white and almost all-male cabinets of most of the first 75 years of the twentieth century, to the cabinets of the last 45 years — which have included more women, some Blacks, some Latinx, and some Asian Americans.
Trump's cabinet was the least diverse in thirty years. The 15 men and women in Biden's initial cabinet are much more diverse, of course, than the 21 men and three women Trump appointed to his cabinet during his four years in office. But how does Biden's cabinet compare to previous cabinets?
Note that cabinet positions have changed over time. I have used the ones that were designated officially as cabinet positions when each President was in office. The current 15 cabinet positions are: Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs. I have not included the various cabinet-level positions (such as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Management and Budget (OMB) or the representative to the United Nations), even though some Presidents have included them in cabinet meetings, and over the years some people have lobbied for certain of these to be designated as full cabinet positions. When relevant, however, I have mentioned appointments to cabinet-level positions.
A simple metric for ethnic diversity: Percentage of white men
Presidential cabinets from Franklin D. Roosevelt through Nixon were all white men (with one exception), and mostly men (with two exceptions). Truman, Kennedy, and Nixon had only white men in their cabinets, Roosevelt (FDR) and Eisenhower each had one woman in their cabinets, and Lyndon Johnson had one African American man. Starting with Gerald Ford's presidency, the number of cabinet appointees who were not white men increased. One simple but revealing metric, therefore, for assessing diversity in Presidential cabinets is the percentage of the appointments who were not white men. As can be seen in Figure 1, which tracks this from FDR to Biden, the percentage of those who were not white men increased steadily after Nixon's presidency, though it declined a bit when Reagan was President, and it declined considerably in the Trump presidency. Biden's initial cabinet, at 60%, represents a new high, though only slightly higher than Obama's 59.4%. (It is worth keeping in mind that according to the 2010 census, white men make up 36.8% of the population.).
Figure 1: Percentage of those in presidential cabinets who were not white males,
Various observers have noted that some cabinet positions are far more important and powerful than others. As the political scientist Thomas Cronin pointed out back in the 1980s, "the three-million-person Defense Department and the sixteen-thousand-persons or so departments of Labor or Housing and Urban Development are not similar." He referred to the four most important cabinet positions (secretaries of state, defense, and treasury, and the attorney general) as the "inner cabinet" and the remaining cabinet positions as the "outer cabinet."
Figure 2 shows the percentage of Presidential appointments in the inner cabinet who were not white men. Each President, of course, has had at least four such appointments to make, and some appointed more than one person to one or more of these positions during their time in office (JFK was President for less than three years, those with two full terms served eight years, and FDR served for 12 years). As can be seen, it was not until Clinton's presidency that any women or men of color were appointed to inner cabinet positions (two of his nine appointments, or 22%). Three of George W. Bush's nine appointments went to women or men of color (33%), and three of Obama's ten (30%). Strikingly, all of Trump's seven inner cabinet appointments went to white men. On the other hand, Biden's secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, is a Black male, and Janet Yellin, his treasury secretary, is a white woman, the first woman ever to serve as secretary of the treasury. The fact that two of the four, or 50%, are not white men means that by this measure Biden's appointments are the most diverse yet. Biden's other two choices for inner cabinet positions, Antony Blinken (his secretary of state) and Merrick Garland (his attorney general) are white men.
Figure 2: Percentage of women and people of color in inner cabinets,
The following sections look separately at women, African Americans, Latinx, and Asian Americans in the cabinets from FDR to Biden. These are followed by a brief section that considers two additional categories because of Biden's breakthrough appointments of a Native American woman and a gay man. Three subsequent sections consider the issues of colorism, religious affiliation, and age. Most of these sections begin with consideration of the cabinets from FDR through Obama, and then look at the strikingly different cabinets of Trump and Biden.
Women in Cabinets
From FDR to Obama
In 1933, Roosevelt named Frances Perkins as his secretary of labor. She served in that capacity until 1945, the longest running secretary of labor in history. Born in Boston in 1890, both parents were from prominent families in Maine. Her father's family, Scottish and English Protestants, first arrived in the colonies before 1680, and at one point owned and operated a brickmaking factory that provided bricks from Newcastle, Maine, to Boston. Two years after Frances was born, the family moved from Boston to Worcester, MA, where her parents started a stationery and office supply business. With degrees from Mt. Holyoke College (in chemistry and physics) and Columbia University (in economics and sociology), she became active in the suffrage and workers' rights movements. In her role as the executive secretary for the Committee on Safety of the City of New York (a position she assumed after the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 workers died, trapped in a burning building with no fire escapes), she came into contact again with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then a young state legislator who she had first met in 1910 at a "tea dance" when she was a student at Columbia.
In 1929, after FDR was elected governor of New York, he appointed Perkins as the inaugural New York state industrial commissioner, a role in which she supervised an agency with 1,800 employees. Three years later, after he was elected President, Roosevelt asked her to be the secretary of labor. Before agreeing, she presented him with a list of things she wanted to work on and made clear that she would only take the job if she had his support. According to Kirstin Downey, a journalist who wrote a biography of Perkins, it was a long list: "a forty hour work-week, a minimum wage, worker's compensation, unemployment compensation, a federal law banning child labor, direct federal aid for unemployment relief, Social Security, revitalized public employment service, and health insurance." FDR agreed, and Perkins became the most influential secretary of labor in the country's history.
Her appointment was opposed by most union leaders, who wanted a union official in the position, and she thought that union leaders were an unimaginative and harmless group. However, in the face of a sudden rise in militance by working men and women, she did more for unions and workers then any secretary of labor before or since. She also initiated and oversaw the push for the 1935 Social Security Act, which had an enormous impact on the lives of most Americans.
Eisenhower's cabinet included one woman (Oveta Culp Hobby, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1953-55); Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon had no women in their cabinets; and Ford's cabinet included one woman (Carla Anderson Hills, secretary of HUD, from 1975-77). Since that time, there have been at least two women in every cabinet, and 30 different women served in cabinets from FDR to Obama (Elizabeth Dole served in cabinets under two different Presidents, and Patricia Harris held two different cabinet positions during Carter's Presidency). These 30 women include 23 whites, five Blacks, one Asian American, and one Latina. Democratic presidents have been slightly more likely than Republicans to appoint women (17 of the 30 have been appointed by Democrats, 13 by Republicans).
Most of the white women, like the white women who have risen to the top of the corporate world, have been well-educated. About one third have degrees from Ivy League schools, and many others have degrees from high prestige schools like Stanford, Duke, the University of Virginia, and Georgetown. The large majority have been married (in some cases more than once), and most had children. Most grew up in economically privileged backgrounds, the daughters of doctors, lawyers and other professionals, with a few, like Penny Pritzker (Obama's secretary of commerce, 2013-17) from immensely wealthy families. Four of the 30 (about 13%) grew up in working class families with fathers who were manual workers, or, in the case of Patricia Harris (Carter's secretary of HUD, and then HEW), a railroad porter.
They ranged in age (at the time of their appointments) from 41 to 62, with an average age of 52. Interestingly, and for reasons that are unclear to me, the women appointed by Republican Presidents during these 83 years (1933-2016) have been younger than those appointed by Democrats (48.1 years as opposed to 55.4 years), but, in contrast, the men appointed by Republicans have been slightly older (55.8 years as opposed to 53.4 years). Therefore, the six Republican Presidents, who, on average, have been older at the time they were first elected than the seven Democratic Presidents (61 as opposed to 51), have tended to choose older men and younger women for their cabinets.
Five of the 32 women have held inner cabinet positions: Janet Reno (Clinton's attorney general, 1993-01), Madeline Albright (Clinton's secretary of state, 1997-01), Condoleezza Rice (George W. Bush's secretary of state, 2005-09), Hillary Clinton (Obama's secretary of state, 2009-13) and Loretta Lynch (Obama's attorney general, 2015-17).
Women in the Trump and Biden Cabinets
When it comes to women in the Trump and Biden cabinets, the contrast could not be more striking. As can be seen in Figure 3, just as Reagan reversed what had been an increasing trend, so, too, did Trump. Trump's cabinet included only three women. Elaine Chao, his secretary of transportation, previously served as George W. Bush's secretary of labor from 2001-09. Born in Taiwan to a wealthy family that owned a shipping business, she has a BA from Mt. Holyoke and an MBA from Harvard. In 1993 she married Mitch McConnell, the Senator from Kentucky who was the Majority Leader in the Senate from 2015 until the Republicans lost the majority in 2021. Throughout Trump's presidency, McConnell was by far the most powerful Republican in the Senate. He more than anyone else was instrumental in passing legislation related to the issues he cared about, such as tax cuts, and appointing conservative judges.
Figure 3: Percentage of women in presidential cabinets,
Betsy DeVos, Trump's secretary of education, is a billionaire born into a wealthy Michigan family who married into an even wealthier family. She is a graduate of Holland Christian High School, a private school in her hometown, and Calvin College, a private Christian university in Grand Rapids, MI. Every bit as conservative as she is wealthy, she has long been involved in right-wing Christian politics. Like many of Trump's cabinet appointments, she had no experience in the area she was appointed to oversee: education. Neither DeVos nor her children had ever attended public schools, nor had she ever worked in a school.
Kristjen Nielson was Trump's secretary of homeland security from 2017-19. The daughter of two physicians, after receiving a BA from Georgetown and a law degree from UVA, she worked in George W. Bush's administration and then started a consultant business. She became the chief of staff to retired Marine General John Kelly, Trump's secretary of homeland security for six months who then, from 2017-19, became his chief of staff. As secretary of homeland security, even after she signed onto and defended Trump's notorious family separation policy, she resigned a few days after Trump berated her publicly for not having secured the borders to his satisfaction.
Whereas only 12.5% of Trump's appointments were women, five of Biden's 15 are (33%), the highest percentage ever (the previous was Obama's appointments, 28%). Three are white women, one is African American, and one is a Native American.
The three white women are Janet Yellin, secretary of the treasury (an inner cabinet position), Jennifer Granholm, secretary of energy, and Gina Raimondo, secretary of labor. Yellin, whose father was a family physician, and whose mother was an elementary school teacher, went to Brown and then to Yale for a PhD in Economics. At various times she taught at Harvard, the London School of Economics, and UC Berkeley. She also was a member of the Federal Reserve Board from 1994 to 1997, and again from 2004-18. She was the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (from 2004-10), the vice-chair of the Federal Reserve (in 2010), and in 2014 she became the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve Board. When her term ran out in 2018, Trump chose not to renominate her as Chair, and she decided to leave the Board when her term ended. In just the few years after she left the Board, and before Biden nominated her, she made more than $7 million in speeches to banks and large companies.
Granholm was born in Vancouver, and her parents, both bank tellers, moved to the USA when she was four. She did undergraduate work at UC Berkeley, and then earned a law degree at Harvard. She was the attorney general of Michigan from 1999-2003 and then became Michigan's first female governor in 2003. She served until 2011 when she left the office due to term limits. Since then, she has taught at UC Berkeley and hosted a TV show. She has served on the Boards of Dow Chemical and Marinette Marine Corporation.
Raimondo is a graduate of Harvard, a Rhodes Scholar, and has a law degree from Yale. Her father was a chemist who worked for the Bulova Corporation. After serving as a law clerk for a judge at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, she became a senior executive at a venture capital company. She then helped found her own investment capital company, became the Treasurer for the state of Rhode Island, and in 2015 she was elected Governor (in 2019 she was elected to be the chair of the Democratic Governors Association).
The other two women, Marcia Fudge, an African American, the secretary of HUD, and Deb Haaland, the secretary of the interior, both come from working-class backgrounds. Fudge grew up in Cleveland. Her mother, a lab technician at a hospital, left that job to work full-time for a union. Fudge's father died when she was young, and her mother remarried twice. One of her stepfathers was a steelworker. When she was in the fifth grade, Fudge's parents moved from the inner city in Cleveland to the suburbs because the schools were better. Fudge graduated from Shaker Heights High School (where she played volleyball and field hockey), went to Ohio State, and then earned a law degree from Cleveland State. She became the Mayor of Warrensville, Ohio, and then was the chief of staff to Representative Stephanie Tubbs, the first African American woman elected to Congress from Ohio. When Tubbs died in 2008, Fudge was chosen to replace her, and has held that seat since then. She also became the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Haaland, the first Native American to serve in a Presidential cabinet, is from a military family. Her mother, a Native American, was in the U. S. Navy, and her father, a Norwegian American ("Dutch" Haaland), was in the U. S. Marines. The family moved thirteen times during her childhood. She graduated from public high school in New Mexico and went to work in a bakery. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in her mid-twenties, became a single mother, started her own salsa business, and, at the age of 46, earned a law degree from the University of New Mexico. A former Chair of the Democratic Party in New Mexico, she was one of two Native Americans elected to Congress in November 2019.
Blacks in Cabinets
From FDR to Obama
Prior to the elections of Trump and Biden, 21 African American men and women had been in Presidential cabinets. Robert Weaver, appointed by Lyndon Johnson in 1966 to be the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was the first. Weaver grew up in a suburb of Washington, D. C. His was one of the few black families among some three thousand neighbors. The white children in his neighborhood went to nearby all-white schools, but he and his brother had to commute forty-five minutes each day to attend black schools in the city. "Their one ambition," Weaver said of his parents, "was to send us to New England schools." He went to Harvard, where he earned a BA, an MA, and a PhD (he was not the first in his family to attend Harvard — his grandfather had gone there also). He then came back to Washington where he served in a variety of positions during Roosevelt's New Deal. He was the architect and leader of what became known as the "Black cabinet," a group of Blacks who lobbied for and assisted in the integration of the federal government.
When Kennedy was elected President, he named Weaver to head the Housing and Home Finance Agency, at the time the highest federal administrative position ever held by an African American. Kennedy tried to elevate the position to cabinet status, but Congress blocked his efforts. Five years later LBJ succeeded where Kennedy had failed and the agency, newly named Housing and Urban Development (HUD), achieved cabinet status. Weaver became the first African American cabinet member.
Nixon's cabinet included no African Americans, and the cabinets of Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush each had one African American. In a sharp contrast to previous Presidents, Clinton appointed seven during his eight years in office. George W. Bush appointed four African Americans to his cabinets, Obama appointed five, and Trump appointed only one.
These 21 African American cabinet members, 16 men and five women, 14 appointed by Democratic Presidents and seven appointed by Republicans, have been well-educated, with college degrees (many from elite schools), and 18 of the 22 earned higher degrees (14 law degrees, three PhDs, and one MD). Slightly more than half grew up in relative economic privilege, the children of educators or successful businessmen. At least five of them, however, grew up in real poverty, and were the first in their families to attend college.
Blacks in the Trump and Biden Cabinets
Trump's cabinet included one African American, Ben Carson, the secretary of HUD. Carson was born in Detroit to a father who was a Baptist minister and an auto mechanic, and a mother who was a domestic worker. His mother was 13 when she married his father (his father was 28); they separated when Carson was eight. After graduating from a public high school in Detroit, he went to Yale on a full scholarship, medical school at the University of Michigan, and then was a neurosurgery resident at Johns Hopkins. He became the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins in 1984 and retired from that position in 2013. He became well-known as an author and a speaker, and he became especially popular among conservatives after he gave the keynote speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. He was one of the many contenders for the Republican nomination for President in 2016. Trump appointed him as secretary of HUD despite his having no experience in either housing or urban development.
Biden named two African Americans to his initial cabinet (although the number from Trump to Biden doubled from one to two, the percentage increase went from 4.2% for Trump to 13.3% for Biden).
A few weeks before Biden announced his first cabinet nomination, it was reported that Marcia Fudge was being considered for his cabinet. Based on her belief that most of the Blacks who had served in Presidential cabinets had held the relatively less powerful positions, she told an interviewer, "It's always, 'We want to put the Black person in Labor or HUD.'" A few weeks later she was in fact asked to be the secretary of HUD and agreed ("It's an honor and a privilege").
Fudge was correct that more African Americans had served as secretary of HUD than any other cabinet position. She will be the fifth African American secretary of HUD, but only one has been secretary of labor. Three have been secretaries of transportation, and three have been secretaries of education. Four, however, have held inner cabinet positions: Colin Powell, George W. Bush's secretary of state from 2001 to 2004; Condoleezza Rice, his secretary of state from 2005 to 2008; Eric Holder, Obama's attorney general from 2009-2015; and Loretta Lynch, Obama's attorney general from 2015 to 2017.
The other African American in Biden's cabinet is Lloyd Austin, the secretary of defense — an inner cabinet position. Austin was one of six children raised by his mother in a farming community in Thomasville, Georgia; his father was a postal worker. After graduating from the U. S. Military Academy, he embarked upon a long military career. When he retired as a four-star general in 2016, he joined several corporate boards, including Guest Services, a hospitality management company; United Technologies; Nucor Corporation, and the non-profit Carnegie Corporation.
Latinx in Cabinets
From FDR to Obama
It was not until the very end of Reagan's second term, in 1988, that the first Latino was named to a Presidential cabinet. It was an unusual and blatantly political appointment. On the eve of the Republican convention that year, Reagan suddenly announced that he was appointing Lauro Cavazos, a Democrat and college president, as the new secretary of education. George H. W. Bush, his vice president, was struggling in his campaign for the presidency, especially in Texas. Because Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for President, had chosen Lloyd Bentson, a popular senator from Texas, as his running mate as vice president, the Republicans feared that Bush would lose the state and its many electoral votes. Bush had proclaimed during his campaign that he would appoint a Latino to his cabinet. Alicia Sandoval, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association, accurately pointed out that the appointment of Cavazos was "just a ploy to help get Bush elected and carry Texas... a classic case of tokenism." Bush carried Texas, and he reappointed Cavazos, who served until December of 1990, when he was forced to resign because Bush's advisers considered him ineffectual.
Cavazos grew up on an eight-hundred-thousand-acre ranch, where his father worked for forty-three years as a foreman in the cattle division. He was educated in a one-room schoolhouse for the children of the ranch's Mexican laborers until, when he was eight years old, his father persuaded reluctant officials in a nearby town to let his children attend what had been up to that time an all-Anglo school. After graduating from high school in 1945, Cavazos served for a year in the army, and then began what was to become a lengthy and conventional climb through the ranks of academe. First, he received a BA and an MA in zoology from Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) and a PhD from Iowa State. After teaching at the Medical College of Virginia for ten years, he left to become professor and chairman of the anatomy department at the Tufts University School of Medicine. He rose through the administrative ranks over the next sixteen years, becoming the dean in 1975. He left in 1980 to return to Texas Tech as president, the position he held when Ronald Reagan came calling.
Prior to the Trump and Biden cabinets, 13 Latinx were members of cabinets, 12 men and one woman, 8 Democrats and 5 Republicans. All have been married, and almost all have had children. All but one (Carlos Gutierrez, George W. Bush's secretary of commerce), have college degrees (four have Ivy League degrees), and eight of the 14 have law degrees. Eight have been Mexican Americans, though this term may be misleading for at least two of them. Bill Richardson, Clinton's secretary of energy from 1998 to 2001, was the son of a Mexican mother but his father was an Anglo banker; Richardson attended an elite New England boarding school, not the usual academic pathway for Mexican Americans. Ken Salazar, Obama's secretary of the interior from 2009 to 2013, identifies as Mexican American, but he is of Spanish heritage, not Mexican, and he is from a ranching family that has been in the Southwest for four centuries (he apparently was called a "dirty Mexican" as a kid, and this may have led to his identification as a Mexican American, though his use of the term may simply have been politically beneficial to him). In addition to these eight (or maybe six) Mexican Americans, the Latinx in cabinets have included three Cuban Americans, one Puerto Rican, and one (Tom Perez, Obama's secretary of labor from 2013 to 2017), born in Buffalo, is the son of parents from the Dominican Republic.
About one third are from economically privileged backgrounds. Manuel Lujan, George H. W. Bush's secretary of the interior from 1989 to 1993, was the son of the mayor of Santa Fe, Richardson's father was a banker, Perez' parents were physicians, and Gutierrez' family was wealthy. Most, however, are from middle-class or working-class backgrounds.
Latinos in the Trump and Biden Cabinets
There was but one Latino in Trump's cabinet: Alexander Acosta, the secretary of labor from 2017-19. Born in Florida to Cuban immigrants, he was the first in his family to graduate from college. After earning undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, worked for a law firm, became the chairman of the board of the largest Hispanic-owned community bank in Florida, was a Republican appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, and became the U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. In this capacity in 2008, he approved a non-prosecution agreement for Jeffrey Epstein who had been accused of sexually abusing young girls. At the time, Acosta was widely criticized for the plea bargain he arranged with Epstein, and for (illegally) failing to inform the victims of the plea bargain. Although these concerns were raised when he was nominated to be secretary of labor in 2017, he was confirmed. Two years later, after the Epstein case resurfaced, as did Acosta's 2008 non-prosecution agreement, and after Epstein hung himself in a jail cell, Acosta resigned.
Biden named three Latinos (no Latinas) to his cabinet, none in the inner cabinet (only one Latino has ever held an inner cabinet position: Alberto Gonzales, George W. Bush's attorney general). One of the three, Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden's secretary of homeland security, was born in 1959 in Cuba to a Jewish family that owned a steel wool company (his mother, a Romanian, was a Holocaust survivor). The family moved to Beverly Hills, CA, he went to UC Berkeley, and then to law school at Loyola. Mayorkas' financial disclosures (ethics disclosures are required within five days of formal nominations) revealed that in the previous two years he had made more than $3.3 million representing and advising companies like Airbnb, Northrop Grunman, T-Mobile and Uber.
Biden chose Xavier Becerra, a Mexican American, as his secretary of HHS. Born in Sacramento, Becerra and his three sisters grew up in a one-room apartment. He was the first in his family to earn a college degree (he has a BA and a JD, both from Stanford). Miguel Cardona, Biden's secretary of education, is the son of Puerto Rican immigrants. He grew up in Meriden, CT, where his father was a policeman, and where the family lived in public housing. He, too, was the first in his family to attend college (he has a BA from Central Connecticut, and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Connecticut).
Asian Americans in Cabinets
From FDR to Obama
There were no Asian Americans in any presidential cabinet until 2000, when Bill Clinton, near the end of his second term, appointed Norman Mineta, a Japanese American, as his secretary of commerce. Mineta, born in 1932, was ten years old when he and his family were taken from their home in California to an internment camp in Wyoming. After graduating from UC Berkeley, he joined the army, where he served as an intelligence officer in Korea and Japan. He returned home to San Jose, California, and worked in his father's insurance agency until he became active in politics, rising from a member of city council, to mayor, to the U. S. Congress, in which he served from 1976 to 1995. While in the House, he helped to pass legislation that granted $20,000 to every Japanese American who had been interned during World War Two. He resigned from the congress in 1995 with a year to go in his term to become a senior vice president at Lockheed Martin (a decision that made many of his Democratic colleagues and constituents unhappy, especially when a Republican was chosen in a special election as his replacement). After five years in the corporate world, he joined Clinton's cabinet in 2000. After the Supreme Court finally settled the 2000 election, George W. Bush named Mineta to be his secretary of transportation, a position he held until 2006.
Aside from Mineta, there have been only four other Asian Americans. Elaine Chao, the wealthy Chinese American woman married to McConnell, has been a member of two different cabinets; she served in George W. Bush's administration as secretary of labor before she became Trump's secretary of transportation. The other three are Steven Chu (also a Chinese American), Obama's secretary of energy from 2009 to 2013; Erik Shinseki, a Japanese American who was Obama's secretary of veterans affairs from 2009 to 2014; and Gary Locke, a Chinese American who was Obama's secretary of commerce from 2009 to 2011.
Two of the three Chinese Americans grew up in economically privileged circumstances. As noted above, Chao, born in Taiwan, is from a wealthy and powerful family that owned and operated a shipping empire in Hong Kong. Chu, born in St. Louis, is the son of a chemical engineer with a PhD from MIT (Chu also has a PhD, from UC Berkeley). Gary Locke, on the other hand, born in Seattle, spent his early years in a housing project in that city and did not learn to speak English until he was five years old. His father, a sergeant in the army during World War Two, ran a grocery store.
The other two, Mineta and Shinseki, are Japanese Americans. Mineta, as noted, spent some of his childhood in an internment camp. His father owned and operated a successful insurance agency, which he returned to after the family's internment, and which Mineta joined after graduating from UC Berkeley and serving in the army as an intelligence officer in Japan and Korea. Shinseki's grandparents emigrated to Hawaii from Hiroshima in 1901. Born in Hawaii, he "grew up in a sugar plantation community," but it is not clear what that meant in terms of his socio-economic background. He graduated from West Point and served in the army for two tours of combat during the Vietnam War.
Asians in the Trump and Biden cabinets
Trump appointed only one Asian American to his cabinet: Elaine Chao, his secretary of transportation, who had been secretary of labor in George W. Bush's cabinet.
Biden nominated two women, one a South Asian and one an East Asian, to "cabinet-level" positions that are not technically part of the cabinet, but he named no Asian Americans to cabinet positions. Only one of the two, however, was approved by the Senate. He chose Neera Tanden, an American-born daughter of Indian immigrants, a graduate of Yale Law School, and the policy director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 Presidential campaign, to be the head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Tanden had offended both the left and the right with thousands of intemperate tweets over the previous few years. Her nomination ran into trouble when Joe Manchin III, the conservative Democratic senator from West Virginia, announced that he planned to vote against her because of her "overtly partisan" tweets that he claimed would have a "toxic and detrimental impact on the working relationship between members of Congress." Tanden, for example, had referred to McConnell as "Moscow Mitch" and as "Voldemort," she wrote that "vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz," and she called Susan Collins "the worst." Manchin did not mention that over the previous four years he had voted for many members of Trump's cabinet who had made far more offensive claims in tweets they had sent out, nor did he mention that Tanden had criticized his daughter, the former CEO of Mylan, a Fortune 500 company, for having accepted a significant pay raise when others in the company did not receive increases. Once Manchin broke ranks with the Democrats and Biden was unable to persuade any Republicans to cross party lines and vote for her, the nomination was doomed because Biden needed a 50-50 split to enable Vice President Harris to break the tie.
Tanden's difficulties were part of a larger pattern faced by Biden's nominees of color. Some sailed through relatively unscathed, but Republican senators gave an especially hard time to other nominees, including the native American, Deb Haaland, the three Latinos, Alejandro Majorkas, Xavier Becerra and Miguel Cardona, and the African American, Marcia Fudge. The votes in the Senate reflected this pattern. Although the Senate took a long time to approve Merrick Garland as attorney general, the vote was 70-30; the other five white men nominated were approved by votes of 92-7, 78-22. 87-7, 86-13, and 68-29. Therefore, the average vote for the six white men was 80-18. In contrast, not only did Tanden have to withdraw because she lacked the necessary 50 votes, the vote for Haaland was 51-40, for Majorkas was 56-43, for Cardona was 64-33, for Becerra was 50-49, and for Fudge was 66-34 (for these five nominees of color, an average vote of 57-40). These votes, and the hostile questions that often were asked in the hearings that preceded them, including claims that some of these candidates' views were "radical" and "dangerous," led some observers to conclude that both the votes and the nature of the questions revealed racial biases. As one native American observer commented, responding to the grilling of Haaland, which included a Republican senator yelling at her, "It was horrible, it was disrespectful. If it...had been a white man or a white woman, he would never have yelled like that."
Biden also nominated Katherine Tai as U. S. Trade Representative. American-born, Tai is the daughter of Taiwanese parents who came to the U. S. as graduate students A graduate of the elite prep school Sidwell Friends, Yale, and Harvard Law School, she was approved by the Senate, 90-0.
Two breakthroughs: A Native American woman and an LGBTQ man
In the Introduction to Diversity in the Power Elite, we noted that the book did not include a chapter on Native Americans mainly because there had been no Native Americans in the power elite. The closest had been Ben Nighthorse Campbell, elected to the Senate in 1992, and reelected in 1998, but who chose not to run in 2004. Campbell's mother was a Portuguese immigrant, but his father was part Apache, part Pueblo, and part Cheyenne. Following his father's advice, Campbell in his early years downplayed his Indian heritage, but came to emphasize it in his thirties. At the age of 47, he became a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, and adopted the name Nighthorse as his middle name.
There were no Native Americans among the 366 cabinet appointments made by the presidents from FDR to Trump. Just as FDR made an important breakthrough when he nominated Frances Perkins as secretary of labor, and so too did LBJ when he named Robert Weaver as secretary of HUD, Biden's choice of Deb Haaland as secretary of the interior, was a historic nomination. In that position, Haaland, a 35th generation New Mexican, a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, will oversee the agency that is responsible for environmental policies, policies designed to confront the polluted land and toxic air that have disproportionately harmed indigenous peoples.
Similarly, although there now have been openly gay men and lesbians appointed as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and elected to both the House and the Senate, there had been none in Presidential cabinets until Biden chose Pete Buttigieg as his secretary of transportation. Biden's appointment of Buttigieg, like his appointment of Deb Haaland, represents an important breakthrough. Buttigieg, the son of academics, went to Harvard, then Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, and then worked for McKinsey, the management consultants, for three years. He became the Mayor of South Bend in 2011 and was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020. Along the way, he joined the U. S. Naval Reserve (in 2009), and in 2014 he took a seven-month leave from his job as mayor to serve in Afghanistan. Also, along the way, in 2015 he came out as a gay man, and in 2018 he married Chasten Glezman, a junior high school teacher.
Another (often unmentioned) factor: Skin color
Biden's cabinet has broken a barrier in yet another category that does not get talked about much: skin color.
Scholars have long observed, and demonstrated empirically, that having dark skin works against people of color in many ways. Decades of research has shown that lighter-skinned African Americans complete more years of higher education, earn more money, and more generally have higher socio-economic status than darker-skinned African Americans. Those with darker skin are treated more punitively in the criminal justice system, and they are less likely to hold elective office. These patterns have been found in many other groups as well, both within and outside the USA, including Latinos, Filipinos, Brazilians, Indians and South Africans.
Not surprisingly, therefore, in our research we have found that these patterns which reveal a preference for lighter skin, often referred to in the literature as "colorism," applied to those African Americans who had reached the power elite. For the first edition of Diversity in the Power Elite, published in 1998, we used the Skin Color Assessment Procedure developed by two psychologists to examine skin color systematically. We asked two students to rate the photographs of African American men and women who had made it into the power elite (which includes the corporate, political, and military elites). We also asked them to rate photographs of some control groups of other prominent Black Americans drawn from a 1996 Ebony Magazine article titled "The 100 Most Influential Black American and Organization Leaders." The Blacks in the power elite were rated as lighter-skinned than the other prominent Blacks, and the women were rated as lighter-skinned than the men. Hazel O'Leary, Clinton's secretary of energy from 1993-97, received the lowest rating (that is, she was rated as the person with the lightest skin).
Another African American in the power elite, Colin Powell, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993 and George W. Bush's secretary of state from 2001-05 was rated as quite light skinned. In an interview conducted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., for a profile that he wrote of Powell that appeared in The New Yorker in 1995, Gates asked Powell why he was so much more popular with whites than with Blacks. Powell responded by saying that first, he didn't fit prevailing negative stereotypes because he did not present a "threatening visage," second he "performed well," and, third, he is light-skinned (as he put it, "Thing is, I ain't that black").
A decade later, when we did the research for the first edition of The New CEOs, inspired by a study that found that Black CEOs were perceived as more "baby-faced" than white CEOs (and thus less threatening), we again performed an empirical study to look at skin color. We used the same Skin Color Assessment Procedure, but this time we asked 30 undergraduates to rate the photographs of all 13 African Americans who had been CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, 12 of the 15 Latino Fortune 500 CEOs, 18 Asian American CEOs, 24 white female Fortune 500 CEOs, 20 white male Fortune 500 CEOs (chosen from similar-sized Fortune 500 companies), and 20 Presidents of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The results showed that, as expected, the Black CEOs were rated as significantly more dark-skinned than the white men and women, the Latinx, and the Asian Americans; however, the Presidents of the HBCUs were rated as even darker-skinned than the Black CEOs.
In that study, we also asked the respondents to identify the person in each photo as either white, African American, Asian American, or Latino. The Latinos not only were rated as having light skin (not as light as whites, but lighter than the Asian Americans, the African American CEOs, or the Presidents of the HBCUs), but they were the most likely to be identified as in one of the other groups. When not identified correctly as Latinos, they were almost always seen as white.
Based on the fact that Biden had appointed the first woman as secretary of the treasury, the first Latino as secretary of education, the first Native American, and the first openly gay man, perhaps it comes as no surprise that he was not influenced by the patterns of colorism just described, and that he nominated Blacks who were darker-skinned than previous Black members of cabinets. Using the easily accessible public-domain head-and-shoulder photographs on the Wikipedia pages for the 22 African American men and women who served in cabinets prior to Biden's election, and for the two African Americans in Biden's cabinet, I prepared a document. I then sent it to some of my recent students. Instead of using the Skin Color Assessment Procedure, I asked them simply to rate each of the 24 photographs on a 10-point scale, with 1 being light-skinned, and 10 being dark-skinned, and then to send the ratings back to me. Within a few days, eight students had emailed me their ratings; I combined their responses to tabulate an average skin color rating for each of the 24 African American cabinet members.
The overall average rating for the 24 photographs was 4.9. As had been the case in the earlier studies of African Americans in the power elite, the women were rated as lighter-skinned than the men (an average of 3.7 for the women, 5.3 for the men). Lloyd Austin received the highest score (8.3). Marcia Fudge, the other Black in Biden's cabinet, had a darker skin color score than any of the other five African American women who have served in cabinets (the average for the other five women was 3.2, whereas Fudge's rating was 6.4).
Biden's choice of two African Americans who are darker skinned than the African American men and women who previously have been in cabinets might reflect the fact that they are from working class rather than privileged backgrounds. Not surprisingly, skin color and class backgrounds conflate. Those from economic privilege tend to be lighter skinned. Not only has this been documented in the literature on colorism, it shows up in this small sample of cabinet members. When those African American cabinet members who grew up in working class or economically impoverished circumstances are compared with those who grew up in middle class or economically privileged backgrounds, the former were rated as darker (an average of 6.6 vs. 3.9). Biden's two choices, therefore, reflect an additional element of diversity, skin color (though he and his advisors probably were not aware of this, as skin color was most likely not one of their primary concerns). Skin color is a sensitive topic — one that, as I have indicated, has been studied a great deal by academics, but typically does not get mentioned in political discourse, and one that is not unrelated to (and probably conflated by) class background.
Trump's cabinet included many evangelical Christians, such as Mike Pompeo (secretary of defense), Betsy Devos (secretary of education), Jeff Sessions (attorney general), Sonny Perdue (secretary of agriculture), Rick Perry (secretary of energy), and Seventh Day Adventist Ben Carson (secretary of HUD). The Biden cabinet is strikingly different in terms of the religious background of its members. Biden is the second Catholic President (JFK was the first). His cabinet includes at least eight Catholics (53%): Lloyd Austin (secretary of defense), Deb Haaland (secretary of the interior), Xavier Becerra (secretary of HHS), Tom Vilsack (secretary of agriculture), Gina Raimondo (secretary of commerce), Marty Walsh (secretary of labor), Denis McDonough (secretary of veterans affairs), and Jennifer Granholm (secretary of energy). This does not include Pete Buttigieg, who was raised Catholic but now considers himself an Episcopalian, or Miguel Cabrera (secretary of education), whose religion I was not able to ascertain. With or without Buttigieg and Cabrera, based on data from the Wall St. Journal, this is a much higher percentage than any previous cabinet — prior to Biden, Reagan's cabinet had the highest percentage of Catholics, with 31%.
Biden also named four Jews to his initial cabinet (27%): Janet Yellin (secretary of the treasury), Antony Blinken (secretary of state), Merrick Garland (attorney general) and Alejandro Majorkas (secretary of homeland security). This, too, is a higher percentage than the cabinets of any of the previous Presidents. Since FDR's presidency, Jews have held about 6% of the cabinet appointments, with far more chosen by Democrats than Republicans. Four of Jimmy Carter's 21 cabinet appointments were Jewish (20%), and five of Bill Clinton's 29 appointments were Jewish (17.2%).
Marcia Fudge is a Baptist, and, as noted, Buttigieg is (now) an Episcopalian. Although the ratios have shifted, and there are fewer Protestants than in the past, and certainly fewer evangelical Christians than in the general population (they make up 15% of the population) or in Trump's cabinet, it is fair to say that there is considerable religious diversity in Biden's cabinet.
One more category: Age
At the age of 78, Biden is the oldest newly elected President in history. So, too, is his cabinet one of the two oldest in modern history (I have only looked carefully at those since FDR). Using the age of the cabinet member at the time of appointment, and not counting for a second time those cabinet members who continued when two Presidents died in office (FDR and JFK) and one resigned in disgrace (Nixon), the average age of Biden's initial cabinet is older than any that have gone before except for Trump's. Trump's cabinet included a higher percentage of old white men than any of the other cabinets, and the average age certainly increased when Trump named 79-year-old Wilbur Ross as secretary of commerce, the oldest first-time cabinet appointee in history. The average age of Biden's cabinet is 59.9, the average age of Trump's was 60.4, and the average for the previous cabinets from FDR to Obama was 54.4.
Having a cabinet with older people is not evidence of diversity. Biden's cabinet, however, not only is older than all previous cabinets except for Trump's, it is more diverse in terms of age. This can be seen by two measures. First, the range, from the youngest (Buttigieg, at 39) to the oldest (Yellin, at 75) is greater in Biden's than in any of the previous cabinets. Second, and more importantly, the standard deviation, a measure of heterogeneity, is greater than any previous administration. The standard deviation is the more important statistic because even with the greatest range of ages, Biden's cabinet would not be diverse in terms of age if all the other cabinet members were the same age (say if they all were 55). The fact that the standard deviation is larger than in any previous administration means that there is a greater dispersion of ages among Biden's cabinet members than in previous cabinets. (See Appendix 2 for the data on average ages of cabinets, FDR through Biden).
If we were to expand our scope, and include not only the 15 "official" cabinet positions but the additional cabinet-level positions as well (for Biden, this would increase the number of appointments to 23, though the number would vary for previous Presidents), Biden's cabinet would look even more diverse, especially in terms of gender. Eleven of the 23 nominations are women, increasing the figure for women from the 33% in the actual cabinet to 48%. There is in fact more diversity in the cabinet-level positions than in the cabinet itself. Nathaniel Rakich, Anna Wiederkehr, and Meredith Conroy, make this very point in the online publication FiveThirtyEight: "The most diverse part of Biden's cabinet will be the cabinet-level positions that are not part of the presidential line of succession."
Over time, for the most part, Presidential cabinets have become increasingly diverse, especially during the presidencies of Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama.
In the face of these gradual changes, which had almost come to be taken for granted, Trump's cabinet was the least diverse in many decades. It also included many members who were totally inexperienced, and some who were actively opposed to the missions of the agencies they were supposed to lead.
In striking contrast, the Biden cabinet continues the previous trend toward greater diversity. In terms of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, skin color, religion, and age, Biden's cabinet is the most diverse ever. However, it is not the most diverse for all of the subgroups that make up our umbrella category of people who are not white men; Figure 4 shows data for the sub-categories that make up non-white males. (Figures 1 and 2 also showed data for those who are not white men, but in Figure 4, separate lines are shown for women, Blacks, Latinx, and Asian Americans). As can be seen, Biden's cabinet includes a much higher percentage of women than previous cabinets, but for Latinx and African Americans Biden's cabinet is similar to those of Clinton and Obama. Moreover, as noted, Biden's cabinet includes no Asian Americans. His administration does, however, include Katherine Tai, an Asian American woman who holds a cabinet-level position, and Kamala Harris, Biden's Vice President, the daughter of an Indian woman (and a Black Jamaican man). And, of course, though not included in Figure 4, Biden also named the first Native American and the first openly gay man.>
Figure 4: Percentage of women, Blacks, Latinx, and Asian Americans in presidential cabinets,
Appendix 1. Diversity in Presidential Cabinets,
a. Patricia Harris held two different cabinet posts during the Carter administration.
b. Elizabeth Dole served in both the Reagan and G. H. Bush cabinets.
c. Cavasos served in both the Reagan and G. H. Bush cabinets.
d. Federico Peña held two different cabinet posts in the Clinton administration.
e. Norman Mineta served in both the Clinton and George W. Bush cabinets.
f. Chao served in both the G. W. Bush and Trump cabinets.
g. John King Jr. is both Black and Puerto Rican; I have included him in both categories. Obama made 32 appointments, but King is counted as both Black and Latino, so the numbers on the right side of the table total 33.
h. For Biden, the totals in the five columns to the right come to 14, not 15; the 15th is Deb Haaland, a native American.
i. There have been slightly more appointments than people in these five columns: 28 women in 29 positions; 25 African Americans in 26 positions; 16 Latinx in 19 positions, and 5 Asian Americans in 7 positions.
Appendix 2. Ages of Presidential Cabinet Appointments,
* Does not include those Cabinet members continuing in their positions in the case of the two presidents who died in office (those in Truman's cabinet who had been appointed by FDR, and those in Johnson's cabinet who had been appointed by Kennedy), or the one president who resigned in disgrace (those in Ford's cabinet appointed by Nixon).
 Thomas E. Cronin, 1980. The State of the Presidency, 2nd edition (Boston: Little Brown), 275-276.
 A "tea dance," according to Perkins, was "for young people who were not too serious to dance and relax, strictly on tea... the innocent habit of late-afternoon parties of the pre-World War I period." (Frances Perkins, 1946. The Roosevelt I Knew. New York: Viking, p. 7.) Apparently at that time Perkins and Roosevelt moved in the same social circles.
 Kirstin Downey, 2009. The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience (New York: Doubleday), p. 2.
 G. William Domhoff, The Corporate Rich and the Power Elite in the Twentieth Century: How They Won, Why Liberals Lost (New York: Routledge), Chs. 2 and 6, 91-136 and 229-291.
 For those interested in the nitty gritty statistical analysis, a 2x2 analysis of variance, comparing the ages of male and female Cabinet appointees for Democratic and Republican Presidents shows a significant main effect for gender of appointee (p<.04), a near significant difference based on the party of the President (p<.08), and a very significant interaction effect, F=11.45, df=1, p<001. The same patterns hold when Trump and Biden's appointments are added to the analysis, and the interaction effect is even greater (F=16.13, df=1. p<.001).
 Kenneth Vogel and Eric Lipton, 2021. "Washington has been lucrative for some on Biden's team," New York Times, January 1, https://www.nytimes.com/
 Robin Armstrong, 1995. "Robert C. Weaver, Government Administrator, Scholar," in Contemporary Black Biography: Profiles from the International Black Community, ed. L. Mpho Mabunda, vol. 8 (New York: Gale Research), 259.
 Richard Bardolph, 1959. The Negro Vanguard (New York: Rinehart), 255.
 "Lauro F. Cavazos, Jr.," Current Biography (1989): 97.
 Maureen Dowd, 1990. "Cavazos Quits as Education Chief amid Pressure from White House," New York Times, September 13, A1.
 Alex Thompson and Theodoric Meyer, 2021. "Biden DHS pick discloses corporate clients," Politico, Jan. 8; https://www.politico.com/
 Marc Lacey, 2000. "First Asian-American Picked for Cabinet," New York Times, June 30, A15.
 It appears that Chao's family became even wealthier as a result of her role as secretary of commerce. According to a report by the Transportation Department's inspector general, she "used her office to benefit her family." See Eric Lipton, Michael Forsyth, and Katie Benner, 2021, "Elaine Chao's mix of work and family drew early ethics scrutiny," New York Times, March 4; https://www.nytimes.com/
 Dana Milbank, 2021. "What terrible things did Neera Tanden tweet? The truth," Washington Post, February 24; https://www.washingtonpost.com/
 Felicia Fonseca and Matthew Brown, 2021. "Interior secretary Deb Haaland's grilling raises questions on bias," PBS Newshour, Feb. 26. https://www.pbs.org/
 Not surprisingly, Asian Americans were not happy about Biden's failure to appoint an Asian American to his cabinet. A few days after the mass shooting in Atlanta that included six Asian American victims, Tammy Duckworth, Democratic Senator from Illinois, a Thai-American, announced that she planned to withhold her vote for any nominee who is white or straight until he did so. "I've been talking to them for months....I am not going to be voting for any nominee from the White House other than diversity nominees." The other Asian American in the Senate, Mazie Hirono, Democratic Senator from Hawaii, a Japanese American, said she shared Duckworth's frustration, and she too planned to withhold votes for any nominees who did not reflect Biden's stated commitment to diversity. (Nicholas Fandos and Emily Cochrane, 2021, "2 Senators Tie Support for Nominees to Diversity," New York Times, March 24, A19.)
 See, for example, Verna M. Keith and Cedric Herring, 1991, "Skin tone and stratification in the black community," American Journal of Sociology, 97, 760-78; Verna M. Keith, 2009, "A colorstruck world: Skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women," in Shades of difference: Why skin color matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn, 25-39, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press; and Jennifer L. Hochschild and Vesla Weaver, 2007, "The skin color paradox and the American racial order," Social Forces, 86, 643-70.
 Evelyn Nakano Glenn (Ed), 2009. Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
 Selena Bond and Thomas F. Cash, 1992. "Black Beauty: Skin Color and Body Images Among African American College Women," Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22(1), 874-888.
 Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 1995. "Powell and the Black Elite," New Yorker, September 25, 70.
 Richard L. Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff, 2011. The New CEOs: Women, African American, Latino, and Asian American Leaders of Fortune 500 Companies (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield). Robert W. Livingston and Nicholas A. Pearce, 2009. "The teddy-bear effect. Does having a baby face benefit black chief executive officers?" Psychological Science, 20, 1229-1236.
 Richard L. Zweigenhaft and Kyle Riplinger, 2011. "Baby-faced and more: CEOs and Skin Color," Appendix 2 in Richard L. Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff, The New CEOs: Women, African American, Latino, and Asian American Leaders of Fortune 500 Companies (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield), 159-170.
 Again, for those interested in the question of statistical significance, the difference between the men and the women, approached but did not quite reach the conventional .05 level of statistical significance (t=1.87, df=22, p<.07); the difference based on socioeconomic status when growing up, based on estimates derived from parents' education and occupation, was statistically significant (t=3.71, df=20, p<.001). A regression analysis shows both gender and SES to be significant predictors of the skin color ratings.
 The topic sometimes does make it into popular culture. See, for example, Spike Lee's 1991 film, "Jungle Fever."
 Yonat Shimron, 2021. "In Biden's Cabinet, Catholics and Jews Dominate," Religious News Service, January 19; https://religionnews.com/
 For details on Jews in cabinets, see Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, Diversity in the Power Elite, 3rd edition, Ch. 2, "Jews in the Power Elite," 29-30.
 Nathaniel Rakich, Anna Wiederkehr, and Meredith Conroy, "Biden's Record-Breaking Nominees, in one Chart," FiveThirtyEight, January 11, 2021; https://fivethirtyeight.com/
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