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Biden’s Cabinet of many women shows other world leaders that US takes gender

President Joe Biden’s Cabinet is the most diverse in U.S. history.

It has five women, including the first female treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, and Deb Haaland, who will become the first Native American Cabinet member if confirmed as interior secretary. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is the first openly gay man to win Senate confirmation and lead a Cabinet department.

Four of Biden’s 15 Cabinet nominees identify as Latino or Black. They also span generations, ranging in age from 39 to 74.

The composition of Biden’s Cabinet matters because research shows that diverse teams can provide chief executives with valuable information that ultimately produces more effective public policies. In building a Cabinet that, in his words, “looks like America,” Biden also sends signals to Americans of many backgrounds: People like you determine the country’s direction. People like you can make it to the top.

The Biden administration’s diverse leadership may send a message to the world, too.

Our work on gender inclusion and Cabinet picks suggests that when world leaders – particularly those in powerful countries – appoint more gender-balanced Cabinets, other world leaders may become more likely to name women for key posts.

Cabinet selection

In any given country, domestic factors – from how the electoral system is set up to what the executive’s relationship is with the legislature – primarily drive Cabinet selection. Generally speaking, heads of government select their Cabinet members for their expertise and to shore up support among domestic constituencies, not to gain international celebration.

But even controlling for domestic factors, world leaders who broadcast the idea that gender equality matters can affect the decision-making of other leaders.

For example, in October 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made international headlines by presenting a gender-balanced Cabinet. Days later, Rwandan President Paul Kagame upped the number of women in his own Cabinet.

The period between Ethiopia’s and Rwanda’s announcements was particularly quick, but such processes – where heads of government follow the lead of their neighbors – are not uncommon. Having a neighboring country with an above-average percentage of women Cabinet ministers is associated with an 8% increase in female Cabinet ministers in nearby nations, our research shows.

Shared membership in international organizations with strong gender equality standards, like the European Union, also seems to increase the importance leaders attach to gender.

Group photo of Spanish cabinet standing on white steps with Sanchez in middle, surrounded by a gender-diverse group
Half the Cabinet ministers appointed by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez are women.
Pool Moncloa/Fernando Calvo via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Our analysis finds that if a country belongs to two international organizations in which 50 other members have above-average percentages of women ministers, its own percentage of women ministers rises by 1 percentage point. The same is true of countries that belong to four international organizations in which 25 other members have more female ministers than most.

Getting more women into government leadership has merits beyond the obvious value of gender equality.

Countries with more women’s political representation tend to experience less civil conflict, international war and gender-based violence.

It’s not yet clear whether women’s representation causes these phenomena or is merely correlated with them; political scientists continue to study this question.

Countries that prioritize women’s equality in politics also tend to do more to protect civil liberties and safeguard human rights. South Africa’s 1996 constitution not only…

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