Cracking the West Wing Boy’s Club: How Obama’s top women finally broke into the room

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons, photographer: Alex Proimos
Media Outlet: Salon

It’s no secret that one of the oldest Boy’s Clubs in the country meets in the West Wing of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A bastion of male power so obdurate and so famous it has become shorthand for male careers that have shed wives and children—perish the thought of a female amid the smoke-filled rooms.

Obama, raised by a strong and independent single mom and the father of two daughters with his formidable spouse, had promised to change that image. He appointed Stephanie Cutter as his top communications adviser; Valerie Jarrett was his most important confidant; and he put eight more women in vital senior roles. Thirty-nine percent of Obama’s West Wing staff was female, a 10-percentage point increase over the end of the Bush administration. For the first time ever, women had reached what scientists and sociologists call “critical mass” in top positions in the West Wing.

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Jay Newton-Small was a Class of 2016 & 2017 New America Fellow researching Alzheimer’s disease and end of life care. She is a correspondent for TIME magazine and author of Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way Washington Works.