Donald Trump Shouldn't Have to Pick a Gender-Equal Cabinet

Kellyanne Conway
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway greet supporters during his election night rally in New York on November 9, 2016. Conway is the first women to have led a winning presidential election campaign. Mike Segar/Reuters

During the U.S. presidential race, Hillary Clinton told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that if elected, she would have a cabinet that "looks like America, and America is 50 percent women, right?" After she lost, many Americans began asking : "Will President-elect Donald Trump have a cabinet where half of its members are women?"

The answer: "Probably not." But does it matter? No.

This election cycle saw women bully other women online and accuse them of "betraying their gender," because they did not blindly support Hillary Clinton—the female candidate—despite the fact she was plagued with corruption scandals.

Reassuringly, this year young women voted for issues, not their gender. They felt that the work their mothers and grandmothers did in the battle for equality had given them the space to do whatever and be whoever they wanted.

During the Democratic primary race, the majority of millennial women gave Bernie Sanders—a 75-year-old white man—their support because he spoke about the issues that concerned them most: paying-off student loan debts, creating jobs and "not being screwed over by the system."

Throughout the campaign there was an assumption that because I am a woman I would vote for a woman. The argument that only a woman can be good for women is one I find inherently flawed. It was a Congress of men that gave women the right to vote, it was a Supreme Court of men that ruled on Roe v. Wade and it was a male Secretary of Defence—Ash Carter in 2015—who determined that women could serve in combat roles.

While the path towards equality has been carved out for women in the U.S., there still is work to do and our society has its challenges. For example, women do well when they decide to run for office—research shows they are as likely to win as men—but only 19.4 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives and 20 percent of the Senate is female. There are only six current female state governors and only 19 of the largest 100 cities have female mayors. So, there is work to be done to encourage more women to run for public office.

But we must not go backwards by declaring that a presidential cabinet is only valid if it is 50 percent female.

Related: Leaving Women Out of Donald Trump's Cabinet Is Not Just Wrong—It's Dangerous

No U.S. president has been without controversy in their cabinet selections—Trump included. President Bill Clinton was unable to have the Senate confirm his first Attorney-General pick, Zoe Baird, after it was discovered that she had hired illegal immigrants and failed to pay taxes. President Barack Obama also faced controversy for several of his selections, including John Brennan, the director of the CIA who supports "enhanced interrogation" techniques.

But President-elect Trump is facing a different criticism–that there is not enough diversity of gender and race in his cabinet—despite having only selected nine out of 22 cabinet-level positions so far.

His selections of the Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley as Ambassador to the United Nations, Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education and Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary have quieted some, but critics no doubt will continue to speak out against him.

As we await more appointments over the coming weeks, the most hotly anticipated pick is secretary of state. Governor Haley—who has been critical of Trump in the past—provides some of the political balance that is needed in Trump's national security team, but will his secretary of state add balance too? This is the type of question we should be examining, not what race or gender they will be.

Instead, since the election I have been asked on numerous occasions: What message does it send to little girls that Hillary Clinton lost? What message does it send that Donald Trump isn't going to have a 50-50 male-female cabinet?

My response is: What message does it send when women are chosen for their gender and not their ability to perform the job at hand?

The election of Donald Trump has resulted in female activists shouting about how he will push the advancement of women back 100 years; popular women's magazines and news sites have gone as far as to tell women to "stockpile contraception, because Trump will take it away."

I fail to see how token female appointments—with the women then owing Trump for his patronage—will be anything but "yes-women." I would rather have one woman who is the best of the best, and selected purely on merit, than 20 who are mediocre and who actually set women back.

In order for Donald Trump to be the president for "all Americans" he must appoint a cabinet that is the best of the best. So, let's wait and see what who he selects for his cabinet before we cast our judgment.

Stacy Hilliard is chair of American Voices International, an independent political action committee and former vice-chair of Republicans Abroad UK