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Cabinets, Ministers, and Gender$

Claire Annesley, Karen Beckwith, and Susan Franceschet

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190069018

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190069018.001.0001

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The Gendered Consequences of Rules about Selection

The Gendered Consequences of Rules about Selection

(p.181) 8 The Gendered Consequences of Rules about Selection
Cabinets, Ministers, and Gender

Claire Annesley

Karen Beckwith

Susan Franceschet

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 8 shows that formal and informal rules that empower or constrain presidents and prime ministers when selecting ministers affect women and men differently, thereby contributing to gendered outcomes. The chapter finds that rules that empower selectors can serve as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, empowered selectors can decide to appoint women in significant numbers, including the construction of gender parity cabinets. The chapter contrasts the cases of two highly empowered selectors (Justin Trudeau and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero) who formed gender parity cabinets with Tony Abbott’s formation of a cabinet with just one female minister. The chapter also contrasts the cases of two female selectors (Michelle Bachelet and Julia Gillard), finding that institutional context is more consequential than the selector’s sex in influencing the number of women in cabinet. Finally, the chapter finds that increasing the number of selectors does not necessarily disadvantage women.

Keywords:   gender, gender parity, cabinet, female prime minister, female president, female chancellor

Rules are not neutral. A core insight of institutionalist theories of politics is that rules confer power, advantaging some actors while disadvantaging others (Thelen and Steinmo 1992). Feminist institutionalists have revealed the myriad ways in which rules are created by those with power (historically men), and as a result, tend to reproduce the power relations that existed at the time of their creation. This chapter identifies the gendered consequences of rules that empower and constrain selectors when assembling their cabinets. In Chapter 3, we showed that rules about selection tend to give presidents and prime ministers considerable discretion to assemble their cabinet teams without interference from other political actors. In some of our cases, namely, Canada, Chile, Spain, and the United States, formal and informal rules consistently combine to empower a single selector to choose ministers. In other cases, however, rules constrain selectors by requiring them to share selection power with other actors, or by the threat of removal.

In this chapter, we use insights from research on gender and political recruitment to show how the rules empowering and constraining selectors affect men and women differently. We organize the chapter around two key insights derived from the existing literature on candidate selection and feminist institutionalism:

  1. (1) Who selects, and where and how selection occurs, matter greatly and have gendered consequences (Hinojosa 2012; Norris and Lovenduski 1995).

  2. (2) Selectors are themselves gendered actors (Bjarnegård 2013; Gains and Lowndes 2014; Tremblay and Pelletier 2001).

Research on gender and legislative candidate selection finds that “who selects and how” affect the opportunities and obstacles for women to be selected as parliamentary candidates (Norris and Lovenduski 1993). Women face fewer (p.182) obstacles when (1) recruitment is centralized in the hands of national party directorates, and (2) recruitment and selection processes are exclusive rather than inclusive. According to Hinojosa, inclusive processes like primaries create an important gendered obstacle, namely, the need to self-nominate (2012, 44). In the absence of a single selector or internal selectorate, potential candidates must self-nominate and, moreover, must face a larger group of selectors among voters in the party primary electorate. Considering extensive research showing that women are less inclined to throw their hat into the ring (see Fox and Lawless 2004; Pruysers and Blais 2017), it is not surprising that women are more likely to emerge as candidates in parties where recruitment is more exclusive, in other words, when there are fewer and known selectors (Hinojosa 2012, 44, 112).

The gendered problem of self-nomination does not exist at the level of cabinet, however. As we showed in Chapter 3, one of the strongest informal rules governing cabinet appointments is that aspirant ministers cannot publicly self-nominate or lobby for a spot in cabinet. Moreover, other political actors cannot visibly interfere in the process of cabinet formation, whether by publicly advocating for someone else’s appointment (although they may work privately to advance their preferred candidates) or by actively campaigning against someone. Indeed, cabinet formation is marked by the complete absence of formal, codified processes for recruiting ministers. As a rule, there is nothing akin to the process of securing a nomination for a parliamentary seat: there is no call for nominations; there is no formal application process; and there is no invitation to eligible candidates to apply. Aspirant ministers, whether men or women, must simply await the call from the selector.1

Another gendered obstacle frequently found in the gender and recruitment literature emerges when candidate selection occurs at the local level. Here, the need for female aspirants to navigate male-dominated local power monopolies serves as a gendered obstacle (Bjarnegård 2013; Culhane 2017). Hinojosa (2012, 112) finds that local power monopolies hurt women’s chances of securing nominations when candidate selection occurs at the local level; when candidate selection is more centralized at the national level, however, more women are selected. Ministerial recruitment, in contrast, is generally centralized in the hands of a single selector, namely, the president or prime minister.

(p.183) We use these broad insights to show that rules about ministerial recruitment have important, although sometimes contradictory, gendered consequences. In the first section, we argue that the insights from research into candidate recruitment help us understand the gendered consequences of rules governing presidents and prime ministers in forming cabinets. Yet ministerial recruitment differs in at least one critical way from candidate selection, namely, that there are relatively few formal rules about how ministers are to be selected. To these insights, we emphasize an additional difference: few persons (and usually only one) are authorized to appoint cabinet ministers. Unlike electoral gatekeepers—who include party elites, party selection committees, and, ultimately, voters—in most cases, a single actor constructs the cabinet and appoints ministers. We demonstrate that, taken together, the formal and informal rules about who selects ministers combine to provide selectors with significant space to exercise political agency. Rules that empower selectors create gendered opportunities because selectors may use their agency to continue long-standing practices of selecting mostly men for cabinet. Or selectors can use this agency to increase the number of women in cabinet. We illustrate these contrasting outcomes with the examples of two leaders who formed parity cabinets (Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero) and another leader, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who selected only one woman for his cabinet.

Our second section explores the gendered consequences of selection rules that constrain prime ministers and presidents as sole selectors by increasing the number of selectors. Although existing research on gender and political recruitment would lead us to expect that increasing the number of selectors disadvantages women, our findings differ. In some cases, co-selectors are equally or more inclined to appoint women than the primary selector. Also, because rules about who can select interact with rules about who can be selected, we find that in countries that have established relatively high magnitudes of women’s inclusion, rules empowering multiple selectors do not disadvantage women. All selectors are bound by rules establishing gender as a representational criterion; where such rules exist, all those involved comply. We refer to this as the concrete floor; and we show how concrete floors emerge in all of our cases in Chapter 11.

In the third section of the chapter, we focus on selectors as gendered actors. Our analysis shows that a selector’s sex or his or her commitment to gender equality does not directly predict whether there will be many or few (p.184) women in cabinet. Both male and female selectors who are committed to increasing women’s representation in politics have used their agency to appoint women to cabinet. But there are also instances where even committed selectors are unable to do so. We contrast two cases of female (and feminist) selectors—Michelle Bachelet and Julia Gillard—to test the assumption that female selectors are more likely to appoint female ministers. We focus on the institutional context, investigating how the sex and gender of Bachelet and Gillard intersect with the rules about selector discretion to produce different outcomes.

Formal and Informal Rules and the Gendered Consequences of Political Agency

The starting point of Norris and Lovenduski’s process-based model of political recruitment is that candidate selection is “an interactive process in which both selectors and aspirants affected outcomes that were organized in several sets of institutions” (Lovenduski 2016, 518, emphasis in original). Even though many political parties have codified rules to select candidates, researchers of recruitment and selection agree that informal rules are usually more determinative than formal party statutes (Bjarnegård and Kenny 2015; Culhane 2017; Piscopo 2016). Likewise, as the previous chapters of this book have shown, informal rules are more plentiful, and often more consequential, than formal rules when it comes to cabinet appointments.

Does it matter in terms of gender whether recruitment is governed by formal or informal rules? Research suggests that it does (Chappell and Waylen 2013; Waylen 2017). The absence of clear, codified rules governing political life, and particularly the recruitment and selection of individuals for political office, makes equality-enhancing reforms more difficult. Around the world, feminists in political parties and civil society have mobilized in pursuit of formal institutional change, such as the adoption of gender quotas, to improve women’s access to political office. Gender scholars have noted, however, that such formal rules may be insufficient to bring about gender equality, since informal rules are “sticky,” and practices that entrench men’s dominance in candidate selection often persist despite formal rule changes (Johnson 2016; Mackay 2014). Moreover, informal but deeply entrenched practices are more difficult to change since there is no clear target for advocacy efforts. In contrast, we find that when it comes to cabinet formation, (p.185) informal rules are not necessarily disadvantageous to women. Instead, the informal rules governing cabinet appointment create significant space for selectors’ political agency, which can be advantageous to women, particularly when political actors are motivated to pursue equality.

Although our data set contains more than one hundred post-election cabinets spanning the years 1933–2016, only five of the cabinets formed had gender parity (and two of them were in Spain). In the following, we discuss two instances where selectors used the extensive powers granted to them to produce favorable outcomes for women: Spanish prime minister Zapatero’s first parity cabinet in 2004 and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s parity cabinet in 2015. We find that these two leaders highlighted their commitments to gender equality during their electoral campaigns and made promises about including an equal number of men and women in their cabinets. We also outline one case where a selector, namely, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, used his political agency in a way that reinforced the status quo to men’s advantage. In Australia, Abbott’s post-election cabinet in 2013 contained just one woman, representing a backward step, since all post-election cabinets in the previous 10 years had included at least two female ministers, and one cabinet had four.

These three selectors—Zapatero, Trudeau, and Abbott—are good examples of empowered selectors in parliamentary democracies. One is from a left-wing party (Zapatero), one is from a center party (Trudeau), and one is from a right-wing party (Abbott). All three prime ministers were unconstrained in their selection powers; two used their power to appoint gender parity cabinets, but one (Abbott) appointed fewer women to cabinet than had his predecessor, evidencing how rules that empower selectors can be a double-edged sword. Political actors may use their agency to ignore changing ideas about gender and act in ways that reproduce men’s advantages in accessing cabinet. Our analysis makes clear that this is not simply a left-right story about party ideology. Although only selectors from left or center parties appointed parity cabinets, we find significant evidence that selectors on the right have initiated significant increases in the representation of women in cabinets. For instance, our data includes four prime ministers from right parties who increased the representation of women to historically high categories of magnitude in their countries. These include Canada’s Brian Mulroney, who, in 1984, increased the proportion of women in cabinet from 3.7 to 14.81 percent, and Stephen Harper, who increased women’s cabinet representation from 23 to 30.77 percent in 2008; Prime (p.186) Minister José María Aznar of Spain, who increased the proportion of women from 17.6 to 26.6 percent in 1996; and the UK Conservative prime minister David Cameron, who appointed women to 33.3 percent of his cabinet in 2015, an increase from 18.8 percent in his 2010 cabinet.

Political Agency and Gender Parity Cabinets: Spain

When the PSOE won Spain’s general elections in 2004, the new prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, appointed eight men and eight women to his post-election cabinet. Upon winning a second term in 2008, he appointed nine women and eight men. As discussed in Chapter 3, Spain’s prime ministers enjoy high levels of discretion when assembling their cabinets. A former minister explained that when selecting ministers, the prime minister “does not have to consult, either formally or informally, with anyone.”2 Zapatero’s discretion in cabinet selection was enhanced further by his decisive victory in the 2000 PSOE leadership contest; he had few ties and owed few debts to the previous generation of party notables (Encarnación 2009; Field 2009). Zapatero’s unexpected and decisive victory in the 2004 general election ended eight years of conservative rule, further strengthening his power as sole selector.

Zapatero’s progressive views were well known and formed the basis of the party’s 2004 electoral campaign. Since becoming party leader, one of Zapatero’s main goals was to mobilize segments of the population, particularly social movements and young people, who had been growing progressively disengaged from politics. Zapatero made frequent appeals to feminists, the LGBTQ movement, human rights activists, and to environmentalists; during the electoral campaign, he explicitly described himself as a feminist (Encarnación 2009, 118). According to a former minister, when he won the leadership of the PSOE, “[Zapatero] immediately began to incorporate more women into front lines of party leadership.”3 Women likewise made up a sizable proportion of Zapatero’s key advisory committee during the electoral campaign, and many of these women were later appointed to his cabinet. In addition to Zapatero’s promise to appoint an equal number of men and women to his cabinet if elected, equality issues figured prominently in the (p.187) overall campaign. For example, Zapatero advocated for a new gender-based violence law and for an equality law to increase the number of women elected and appointed in all political institutions.

Zapatero’s predecessor, Prime Minister José María Aznar, had already appointed more women to cabinet than the previous socialist government of Felipe González (1982–1996). Zapatero’s appointment of a gender parity cabinet more than doubled the percentage of female ministers. Prior to Zapatero’s election, Spain had not yet surpassed the 30 percent threshold of women’s cabinet inclusion.

The formation of a gender parity cabinet was possible not only because of Zapatero’s political agency as the selector. Such agency was undergirded by norms about gender equality that first emerged in the PSOE. As a result of feminist mobilizing in the party, the PSOE had adopted an internal gender quota in 1993. A precedent of a gender parity cabinet had already been set at the regional level, when Manuel Chávez’s PSOE government in Andalusia included an equal number of male and female ministers. While Zapatero’s decision to appoint a parity cabinet was entirely consistent with his own principled commitment to gender equality, his commitment also found expression and prior support within the broader party (Franceschet and Thomas 2015). In sum, Zapatero represents a clear example of a selector who used his power of discretion to (1) issue a promise of a gender parity cabinet, and (2) act on formal party rules applicable to legislative candidacies (in terms of gender quotas) and on informal norms that feminists in the PSOE and in civil society had been developing for decades, namely, that gender balance in politics is a central principle of democracy.

Political Agency and Gender Parity Cabinets: Canada

Like their Spanish counterparts, Canadian prime ministers wield considerable power in the process of cabinet formation. Neither formal nor informal rules constrain their autonomy when selecting ministers. Canadian leaders can make their choices without consulting their parties or ceding selection power to other actors. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives, the only two parties that have held national office, have rules requiring leaders to share ministerial selection with the parliamentary party. Nor must prime ministers consult other party elites. Because single-party governments are the norm, prime ministers do not cede selection powers to other parties. (p.188) David Zussman writes, “each prime minister has complete authority over building his or her own Cabinet” (2013, 86).

Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney was the first Canadian leader who substantially increased the number of female ministers, appointing four women to his post-election cabinet in 1984, quadrupling the number of women in cabinet.4 Women’s inclusion in Canadian cabinets continued to grow throughout the 1990s, and, by 2008, another prime minister from the Conservative Party, Steven Harper, appointed women to 30 percent of cabinet posts, a record high at that point in Canadian history. This record was surpassed when Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau assembled the country’s first gender parity cabinet at the federal level. In early November 2015, Canada garnered international attention when, during the press conference that followed the cabinet swearing-in ceremony, a reporter asked Trudeau why gender parity was such an important goal for his cabinet. The prime minister replied: “Because it’s 2015.” The comment made global headlines and went viral on social media. Canadians, however, were less surprised by Trudeau’s gender parity cabinet since a commitment to gender balance in government had been a key part of his campaign platform. Canadians had also seen three previous examples of gender parity cabinets, albeit at the provincial, not federal, level. Quebec premier Jean Charest formed two consecutive gender parity cabinets, in 2007 and 2008, and Alberta premier Rachel Notley formed a gender parity cabinet in 2015. Quebec’s example may have played a role in Trudeau’s motivations to have a parity cabinet, since Charest’s government was a Liberal government and some of the individuals playing roles in Trudeau’s 2015 election campaign had been involved with Quebec’s Liberal government.

The Liberal Party’s 2015 campaign platform had promised “Government appointments that look like Canada,” and that a “Liberal cabinet will have an equal number of women and men.”5 In an interview more than one month before the election, a skeptical reporter asked Trudeau about his promise of gender parity. The reporter wondered how it would be possible to have an equal number of male and female ministers, given that the Liberal Party would clearly not have an equal number of men and women in their parliamentary caucus; just 30 percent of Liberal candidates were women. Trudeau (p.189) reinforced his promise of gender parity, saying, “I look forward to showing that women are needed in positions of power. And I certainly hope that, after people see how effective a cabinet with gender balance in it is, we’re going to draw even more women into politics in subsequent elections.”6

Aside from a small number of media columnists who lamented that quotas would undermine the principle of merit, there was remarkably little public criticism of Trudeau’s promise of a parity cabinet, and instead, much public praise.7 During the election campaign, the governing Conservatives paid almost no attention to Trudeau’s promise for a gender parity cabinet, instead focusing their criticism on his policy issues or his lack of experience for the demanding role of prime minister. We take the relative absence of public criticism of Trudeau’s promises, and later, of his delivery, of a gender-balanced cabinet as evidence that progressive ideas about women’s place in politics and society were already widely accepted in Canada, and that openly and publicly criticizing gender parity in cabinet would risk exposing an individual candidate, or a political party, as clinging to outdated ideas about gender roles. As was the case with Zapatero and the PSOE, Trudeau and the Liberal Party leveraged an improved, gendered political opportunity context, unconstrained by formal or informal rules of cabinet selection. As an empowered selector, Trudeau used his considerable discretionary powers to build on inclusionary norms gaining strength in society and examples of gender parity in two Canadian provinces, Alberta and Quebec, to promise and deliver a cabinet with an equal number of female and male ministers.

Political Agency to Exclude Women from Cabinets: Australia

Rules that empower selectors allow them to promise gender parity cabinets; such rules also permit selectors to exclude women from cabinet. Political actors may use their agency to ignore previous practice, to valorize criteria other than gender, or to re-gender cabinets to male advantage. The case of Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and the formation of his right-wing (p.190) Liberal Party’s post-election cabinet in 2013 show how empowered selectors can act to exclude women from cabinet.

Although Abbott’s three predecessors appointed between two and four women to their post-election cabinets, Abbott appointed just one woman to his 18-member cabinet following the general election in September 2013. Before the election, Abbott had said his main priority was to maintain the stability of the team that he created while his party was in opposition. In February 2013, and again throughout the year, he promised, “All of my frontbenchers can expect to be doing the same job in government as they are now.”8 At the time, Abbott’s shadow cabinet included three women: Julie Bishop, Sophie Mirabella, and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Ultimately, only Bishop was included in Abbott’s post-election cabinet, keeping her foreign affairs portfolio. Fierravanti-Wells was excluded, despite the pre-election promise, because of Abbott’s “displeasure at [her] performance.”9 Mirabella failed to retain her parliamentary seat of Indi in rural Victoria, and thus could not be included in the new cabinet. In his 18-member post-election cabinet, Abbott included only one woman.

Australian prime ministers have considerable powers to select ministers. Indeed, the only real constraint on Liberal prime ministers in Australia is their need to form coalitions with the National Party. This is a permanent and predictable coalition arrangement, however, and one for which the Liberal Party leader always plans. There is no evidence that this coalitional arrangement has constrained previous Liberal Party leaders from including women in cabinet. Note that Abbott’s Liberal Party predecessor, Prime Minister John Howard, appointed multiple women to three of his four post-election cabinets. In 2004, he appointed three—more women than had ever been the case in Australian history. In 2013, Abbott was operating in a context where a higher level of representation of women in cabinet had already been achieved. Since 1996, with only one exception, previous Australian prime ministers had consistently appointed at least two women. As well as the precedent set by his Liberal counterpart, Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard subsequently appointed four and three women to their 2007 and 2010 cabinets, respectively. As one media report put it, “Abbott’s new ministry reveals he is not afraid to stare down the zeitgeist on gender equality.”10

(p.191) As in the cases of Zapatero and Trudeau, women in the Liberal Party had mobilized to encourage the inclusion of women in cabinet. In 2013, Abbott faced general pressure to improve women’s cabinet presence, and some of this pressure came from within his own party. “Senior Liberals said the prime minister elect should use the reshuffle to promote women into cabinet.”11 When Abbott failed to include more than one woman in his cabinet, he was publicly criticized. For example, Ruth Medd, head of Women on Boards, said, “It’s a very nonsense argument but people get away with saying we select on merit. You define merit in your own image.”12

Abbott clearly did not share these views about the importance of women’s representation in politics. Instead, he made a promise to keep women’s representation in cabinet contingent on their prior inclusion in his shadow cabinet; he subsequently removed one of them from consideration, post-election (Fierravanti-Wells); and he appointed Ian MacFarlane to replace shadow minister Sophie Mirabella, as minister for innovation, industry, science and research. Abbott did not respond to the structural autonomy he enjoyed as the empowered selector of cabinet ministers by improving (or even maintaining) the record of appointing women to cabinet in Australia. As selector, Abbott used his considerable discretionary powers (1) to campaign on a promise to continue with members of his shadow cabinet in government, if elected; (2) to appoint fewer women to cabinet than had been the case in the four preceding Australian governments; (3) to include only one woman in cabinet, in the context of developing civil society norms that militated for improved political representation of women; and (4) regardless of the political practice, in both major parties, to include at least two women in cabinet, independent of cabinet size. As an unconstrained, autonomous selector, Abbott—unlike Zapatero and Trudeau—used his discretion to construct a cabinet with fewer, rather than more women than had been the case for previous Australian governments. Unlike Zapatero and Trudeau, Abbott did not align himself with feminist values. Recall that Julia Gillard’s 2012 “Misogyny and Sexism” parliamentary speech was directed at Abbott as leader of the opposition. In it, Gillard repeated sexist statements Abbott (p.192) had made throughout his political career, including the occasion when he asked if it were true that if “men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?”13

The Gendered Consequences of Empowered Selectors

The contrasting examples of Zapatero, Trudeau, and Abbott demonstrate the importance of political agency in institutional contexts dominated by informal rules. In all three cases, prime ministers Zapatero, Trudeau, and Abbott were fully empowered to make their ministerial selection. In each country, party feminists and equality advocates had succeeded in putting new ideas about the value of women’s presence in politics on the public agenda. In the case of Spain, these ideas were put in practice in the form of a gender quota in the PSOE. In Spain and Canada, the prime ministers both responded by appointing gender parity cabinets and, in each case, there was much public support for these historic moves. In Australia, the informal rules permitted Abbott, as selector, to appoint just one woman, ignoring expectations about women’s presence and prioritizing an alternative informal rule about the continuation of shadow cabinet. He faced sanction in the form of criticism from within his party and the media more broadly.14

Selectors do not operate in isolation from rules about qualification. Prescriptive representational rules about gender set expectations about what a legitimate cabinet should look like, and a concrete floor in each country defines the established level of women’s representation. Women’s representation in cabinet had already reached the 30 percent magnitude threshold in Canada, and in Spain, Zapatero’s predecessors had appointed cabinets with 20 and 26 percent women’s representation. In Australia, the bar was much lower, with the highest magnitude ever reached at 18.75 percent. Empowered selectors have agency, but they also respond to the cues of other informal rules.

(p.193) The Gendered Consequences of Constraints on Selectors: Coalitions and Political Parties

There are three circumstances in which presidents or prime ministers share selection powers with other political actors. First, in parliamentary systems, entering a formal coalition requires an otherwise autonomous selector to share ministerial selection powers. Coalition government reduces the chief executive’s discretion to choose ministers: a strong informal rule in coalition governments is that prime ministers only have discretion to select the ministers allocated to their party during the process of coalition negotiations. Second, in some political parties, there are rules that empower the caucus or parliamentary party to choose ministers. In such cases, prime ministers cannot necessarily choose the individuals who will be cabinet ministers, but they can allocate ministerial portfolios. Third, some political parties have informal rules that require selectors to consult with other political actors within their party.

Each of these circumstances has the effect of increasing the number of selectors. Following the gender and candidate selection literature, we anticipated that fewer selectors would lead to more favorable outcomes for women than would be the case where multiple selectors are involved. We anticipated that three gendered mechanisms would be in play. First, in the case of coalition constraint, the primary selector has discretion over fewer spots in cabinet, which would, in turn, increase the competition for these positions. We anticipated that the combination of high competition and a tradition of male dominance would disadvantage women in cabinet appointments. Second, because coalitions increase the number of persons involved in the selection process, the inclusion of women in cabinet would require more political actors to be committed to ideas about gender equality or to be persuaded that gender equality is a legitimate and important goal; with a large number of participants involved in the selection process, uncertainty about participant commitment to gender parity increases. Third, and similarly, where selection is directed by multiple members of a party caucus, the larger number of participants should decrease the likelihood of women being appointed as cabinet ministers.

Among our cases, we find no clear pattern of the impact of centralization and larger numbers of selectors on women’s inclusion in cabinets. The unanticipated UK Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010 likely reduced the number of women that a single-party Conservative cabinet (p.194) might have produced; party rules restricting sole selector powers in the Australian Labor and UK Labour parties may have had the same effect. Germany, however, the country in which selectors consistently experience multiple constraints, has strong gender equality in cabinet. German coalition cabinets feature a higher share of women than single-party governments in Australia and the United Kingdom. Clearly, it is not just about the number of selectors.

Gendered Consequences of Coalition Constraints: The United Kingdom and Germany

The 2010 UK election failed to deliver a parliamentary majority to the Conservative Party, led by David Cameron. Rather than forming a minority government, Cameron opted to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In so doing, Cameron had to share the task of ministerial recruitment with Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. The result of negotiations, Cameron had discretion over 17 spots in cabinet; his Liberal Democrat coalition partner had five.

Prior to the election, Cameron sought to improve his party’s standing with women voters by promising to appoint women to one-third of government posts. Post-election and in coalition, Cameron selected five women for his 17 cabinet slots (or 29.41 percent), thereby coming very close to meeting his pre-election commitment. Cameron’s coalition partner, Nick Clegg, failed to appoint any women, producing a cabinet where women held just 18.8 percent of all posts, falling far short of Cameron’s one-third pledge. Media reports noted how Cameron’s situation had “been made worse by the Liberal Democrats, the supposed mould-breakers of politics, who didn’t select a single woman to take up one of their five cabinet seats.”15 A junior minister appointed to the Liberal Democrat team, Lynne Featherstone, was said to lament “the ‘male and pale’ line-up” of the coalition government.16

Germany offers an interesting contrast. The German Basic Law formally empowers the chancellor to select ministers. In practice, (p.195) however, all German chancellors have had to share selection powers. Since Germany’s electoral system does not produce parliamentary majorities, coalition government has been the result. In these cases, the chancellor has no say over ministerial appointments of the coalition partner. A former German minister explained, “The Chancellor would never get involved in the choice of ministers from the . . . coalition. It is an unwritten rule that the coalition partner decides on its own ministers.”17 In coalition, German governments have nonetheless produced impressive levels of women’s cabinet representation. Germany was the first country among our cases to cross the 30 percent threshold, under the chancellorship of Gerhard Schröder in 1998. Since then, a clear and consistent pattern has emerged. In four post-election cabinets, at least 30 percent of cabinet posts were given to women: two Social Democrat (SPD)–Green coalitions led by Schröder (1998, 2002), and two Christian Democrat (CDU)–SPD grand coalitions led by Merkel (2005, 2013). In only one instance was women’s presence in a post-election cabinet lower than 30 percent: the CDU–Free Democrat (FPD) coalition led by Merkel in 2009. Even in this case, the decline was marginal, with women appointed to 26.6 percent of cabinet posts.

Increasing the number of selectors does not automatically or consistently reduce the number of women in cabinet. Co-selectors in the form of coalition partners who are equally committed to gender equality can use their political agency to include women among their cabinet picks. For example, Germany’s Green Party, as junior partners in coalition with the SPD in 1998 and 2002, ensured that their ministerial nominations took gender equality into account. Similarly, in the Merkel-led Grand Coalitions formed in 2005 and 2013, the SPD as co-selector nominated three women among its allocation of eight portfolios in 2005 (or 37.5 percent) and three of six in 2013 (or 50 percent). In contrast, in 2009, when the CDU formed a coalition with the Liberal FDP—“a party that opposed quotas”18—the junior partner nominated just one woman among its allocated five cabinet posts (or 20 percent). In Germany, there is a strong norm of women’s representation across all parties that might form a governing coalition, with the exception of the FDP.

(p.196) Gendered Consequences of Party Selectorates: The United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany

As the gender and candidate selection literature has documented, party selectorates operate as additional barriers to women seeking access to political office (Kenny 2013). The UK Labour Party, built on strong male working class and trade unionist traditions, traditionally prioritized class over gender (Lovecy 2007), and could be expected to impede a single selector’s attempt to construct a cabinet that included relatively large numbers of women. In Australia, the Labor Party (ALP) caucus features a cleavage between the party’s right, influenced by Catholic social teaching, and its left, influenced by traditional labor-market protectionist beliefs (Kent 2009, 145; Sawer 2013, 108); such a cleavage, combined with the role of the party in selection of ministers, similarly could be expected to constrict the ministerial possibilities for women. Nonetheless, our cases show that, in these parties, increasing the number of selectors does not predict that a cabinet therefore will include fewer women.

In Australia and the United Kingdom, some prime ministers lose discretion over ministerial appointments because formal party rules require them to hand the selection of ministers over to the parliamentary party. As Chapter 3 explained, these rules were introduced by the UK Labour Party and the Australian Labor Party to secure a strong voice for the collective parliamentary party vis-à-vis executive leadership of the party. In the United Kingdom, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), when in opposition, had the power to elect shadow ministers who subsequently would become members of the cabinet after a successful general election. The practice of shadow cabinet elections in the PLP took place annually until 2010, when the formal rules were changed to empower the party leader as sole selector. In Australia, caucus elections take place when the party is in government, although there are instances when prime ministers can exercise agency to amend a list or, following strong electoral results, choose ministers themselves. Rules empowering parliamentary parties over prime ministers may be declining in force, but their existence has over time had a strong impact in terms of the gendered composition of cabinets in the United Kingdom and Australia.

The rules in the UK Labour and Australian Labor parties increase the size of the selectorate and thereby change the dynamics of ministerial recruitment. Rather than ministrables waiting patiently for the call from the prime (p.197) minister, these party rules mean that aspiring ministers must “lobby hard” to secure strong support of the parliamentary party that elects the shadow cabinet (Ryan 1999a, 211).19 In his analysis of UK shadow cabinet elections from 1955 to 1963, Punnett (1964) found that there was little turnover on the lists, making it hard for newcomers to secure a place among shadow cabinet ministers. This was reinforced by the fact that there were “a lot of blocs in the PLP, Scots voting for Scots and so on.”20 Both situations present the gendered obstacles identified in Hinojosa’s study of candidate selection (2012): the need to self-nominate and lobby for a cabinet spot and the need to navigate male-dominated power monopolies.

Australian Labor Party (ALP) caucus elections have been identified as one of the biggest hurdles to women in executive office (Ryan 1999a), in part due to the strong masculinist factions within the party (Summers 2003). The first female ALP minister, Susan Ryan, appointed in 1983, wrote, “factional party power stymied more women than parliament” (Ryan 1999a, 138). None of the five post-election Labor governments appointed 1983–1993 included more than one female minister. More women are selected only when ALP prime ministers manage to assert their authority over the rules of caucus selection. Following successful elections, prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were permitted to bypass the formal rule and to make their own ministerial appointments as a “reward” for returning the party to government.21 In 2007 Rudd appointed four women to cabinet (or 20 percent) and was, according to an Australian Labor Party politician, “very good at appointing women to key portfolios.”22 In 2010, Gillard used her selection power to appoint three women (or 15.79 percent). When Labor moved back into opposition in 2013, caucus selection rules were reinstated, and were again criticized by women in the party. The former speaker of the House of Representatives, Anna Burke, depicted faction leaders as “faceless men” who were “firmly in control” of the ministerial selection process, to the detriment of women who hoped for a “meritorious selection.”23

In the United Kingdom, rules empowering the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to elect ministers to shadow cabinets (and thus to cabinet, if the party moves from opposition to government) were judged detrimental to (p.198) women’s representation (Harman 2017, 132). Feminist campaigning within the party, backed by supportive male party leaders such as Neil Kinnock, led to a series of formal rule changes to PLP shadow cabinet elections that ultimately improved the gender imbalance. Initially, the power of selection was retained by the PLP, but the size of the shadow cabinet was increased from 12 in 1979 to 15 in 1982, 18 in 1992, and 19 in 1995, to create more openings for women.24 The new voting rules for the 1992 shadow cabinet election specified that the three women getting the highest number of votes would be included in the shadow cabinet, even if they were not among the top 18 candidates, based on votes alone. Between 1993 and 1996, MPs were required to vote for at least four women, with the sanction that ballot papers would otherwise be invalidated.

These formal rule changes were controversial within the Labour Party and were strongly resisted by incumbent men through tactics of hostility, ridicule, and sabotage. Harman (2017, 133–134) recalls how the new rules to promote women in the shadow cabinet were referred to derogatorily as the “Assisted Places Scheme”25 within the PLP and the “Tarts’ Charter” in the House of Commons bars. She describes how opponents who now “had to put up with the new scheme” made sure that those who had advocated the reforms were not beneficiaries of it, but rather “felt the full force of backlash” (2017, 134). Opponents of the new rules tried to sabotage the scheme by “dumping” votes on women (2017, 134). Harman explains,

Opponents of the new scheme hatched a plan to “dump” their votes on the most “useless” women, in the hope that, if the votes could be spread out thinly, no woman would win enough to be elected. Some MPs actually wanted a “useless” woman to be elected, thinking that, then, the whole scheme could be discredited and abandoned. (2017, 134).

Despite resistance and sabotage, the rule change was effective. By the time Labour was elected to government in 1997, there were five women in the elected shadow cabinet. These five women were selected by the PLP and were not Blair’s ministerial picks.26 This example of rule change in the Parliamentary Labour Party demonstrates the effectiveness of addressing (p.199) gender inequalities in institutional sites that interact with cabinets. This is another example of how constraints on selector discretion need not be detrimental to women’s ministerial representation. If party feminists are able to secure formal rule changes, this can ensure the selection of women.

The German case also shows how increasing the number of selectors need not be detrimental to women’s presence in cabinet. Although parties in Germany do not play a formal role in voting for the chancellor’s ministerial nominations for cabinet, there are strong informal rules requiring chancellors to consult with party elites in the process of ministerial selection. The degree of consultation varies according to party.27 Kaiser and Fischer (2009, 153 fn 4) explain that “[i]n the German case the effective selectorate in the ministerial appointment process is a small group consisting of parliamentary and party leaders, including the most influential leaders of the Länder party associations, the exception being the Free Democrats (FDP) where ministerial appointments are usually more formally decided upon in a joint meeting of the parliamentary party and the party executive.”

Again, despite increasing the size of the effective selectorate, Germany has been a front runner in terms of gender equality in cabinet, consistently delivering cabinets with strong representation of women. Here, the process of party consultation functions to help chancellors identify qualified women from across the party, and across the regions. In the process of consultation, the chancellor’s advisors will scan for potential ministers. When asked about how she was selected for ministerial office, one former minister said, “the chancellor, then Schröder, most probably with Walter Steinmeyer, the minster for the chancellor’s office, [ . . . ] they got together and thought it through and probably thought, let’s ask [name of female minister].”28 This process of consultation also allows groups within the party to lobby for ministers from among their members. One such group is the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Sozialdemokratisher Frauen.29 A former minister explained: “In each party—and it’s exactly the same in the CDU as the SPD—there are groups that say—for example the Jusos say we want a young face, it’s clear what the ASF wants, [ . . . ] it could be the Mittelstand in the CDU. It’s not that they sit on Merkel or Schröder’s lap and say ‘you must, you must,’ but he knows. And if he doesn’t know, then he has people who know that for him. And those people say, ‘she (p.200) would perform well in cabinet,’ and he says, ‘aha, she has this background and that background.’ ”30 In Germany, the process of consultation, and the inclusion of gender as a consideration, combine to produce cabinets that include women, even in a context where several persons are involved in the identification and selection of ministers.

In sum, we expected that increasing the number of selectors would lead to poor outcomes in terms of gender parity in cabinet. Contrary to our prediction, this was not consistently the case. What makes the difference across these cases is the variation in the gendered standpoints of the co-selectors. Where co-selectors—whether in an individual or a party—are committed to gender equality, then the outcome need not be detrimental. In the United Kingdom and Australia, the parties that were preventing selectors from reaching higher outcomes themselves had masculinist gendered cultures that disadvantaged female ministrables and disadvantaged the sole female selector herself.

Selectors as Gendered Actors Working with Rules about Ministerial Recruitment

Feminist political scientists have shown that women holding executive power are assigned different gendered attributes than male selectors, in terms of their competence, authority, and motivations (Duerst-Lahti and Kelly 1996; Murray 2010). All selectors, men and women, are expected to conform to the gender norms associated with their sex, what Chappell (2005) calls the “gendered logic of appropriateness.” Gains and Lowndes (2014) acknowledge that those working with rules are themselves gendered actors. The offices of president and prime minister are replete with masculinist assumptions about power, leaving male and female selectors differently empowered in practice (Duerst-Lahti and Kelly 1996). Although it might be expected that a female president or prime minister would appoint more women to cabinet than her male counterparts might select, we find that a selector’s sex is not a good predictor of whether there will be many or few women in cabinet. We have five female selectors in our seven country cases,31 one of whom, Michelle (p.201) Bachelet, appointed a parity cabinet, and another, Margaret Thatcher, who appointed no women to any of her three post-election cabinets. We argue that female selectors’ propensity to appoint other women to cabinet is not attributable to their sex, and not even the degree of their commitment to gender equality. Rather, the institutional context plays an important role in determining whether female selectors appoint women to their cabinets.

The contrasting cases of Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and Australian prime minister Julia Gillard show the centrality of institutional context and how it intersects with the selectors’ sex and gender. Each woman was the first woman to hold executive office in her country; both served as leaders in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Although we recognize that both male and female selectors are gendered actors, in this section, we offer these two illustrations of women operating in political environments saturated by gendered ideas about leadership, and we outline how rules empowering selectors intersect with the selectors’ own gender and the broader institutional context to produce varying gendered outcomes.

Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister and leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), formed a cabinet following the general election in 2010. She appointed three women to cabinet, fewer than her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, who had appointed four (20 percent), including Gillard herself. Having successfully led tricky negotiations with one Green and two Independent MPs to allow the Australian Labor Party to form a minority government, Gillard had permission to form her own government independently, rather than accepting a slate from the ALP caucus. The media speculated that “within the Labor Party Gillard will enjoy enhanced authority; it is her skill, discipline and will-to-power that has kept Labor in office and saved the party and herself from a historic humiliation.”32 Nevertheless, Gillard chose to consult with her party on ministerial appointments—“it is understood Ms Gillard is consulting more than Mr Rudd on her ministerial line-up”33—but “Ms Gillard reserv[ed] the ultimate right to determine who would form her new team.”34 Gillard’s discretionary selection powers were confirmed by the incumbent health minister Nicola Roxon, who stated that while she would be eager to continue in her present portfolio, “ultimately . . . it’s really up to the (p.202) Prime Minister to work out where we can all be best used [ . . . ] And that’s something that I will accept.”35

In practice, Gillard was not afforded the full authority that derived from her position as prime minister and as a leader who negotiated her party’s return to government. We argue that her ability to exercise the power conferred by formal and informal rules on ministerial selection was limited by her gender. A feminist, Gillard later became known for calling out “sexism and misogyny” in Australian politics in 2012. Yet, at the start of her term as prime minister in 2010, Gillard “tried to behave so carefully as prime minister to try to minimize the gender card being used against her” (Johnson 2015, 306). Her gender was a contentious public issue, and she was under constant scrutiny as a woman. She was the first prime minister who was “not a man in suit”; she came to power through an inner party coup that was deemed “unusually bloodthirsty for a woman” (Johnson 2015, 303), transgressing the expected behavior of women. Much attention was paid to the fact that she was not married, and does not have children.

Gillard reflected in her autobiography My Story that on becoming prime minister she decided she “would not campaign on being the first woman. It was so obvious that it did not need constant reference” (Gillard 2014, 113). She emphasizes the ways her discretion and authority as prime minister, and her ability to use that discretion to promote gender equality, were constrained by both sex and gender (Gillard 2014). She writes, “as Australia’s first female prime minister, I came to see the outlines of the bars of [my gender prison]. But of all the experiences I had as prime minister, gender is the hardest to explain, to catch, to quantify” (2014, 98). “Gender ‘doesn’t explain everything’ about my prime ministership, ‘it doesn’t explain nothing; it explains some things’ ” (2014, 98). As Gillard concluded, “by the end of my prime ministership, political commentators were recognizing that I had faced more abuse because I was the first woman” (2014, 113). Gillard’s perception is that her gender meant that she received less deference than had conventionally been shown to male prime ministers (2014, 97–114). She describes operating in “an environment in which it became unremarkable to treat me with less respect than is normally accorded a prime minister” (2014, 82). Referring to her treatment by the media, the opposition, and, despite having returned her party to government, other members of her own party, Gillard speculated (p.203) that her gender explained the “calculated disrespect” (2014, 97) directed toward her.

Rather than bowing out of politics at the 2010 election, Kevin Rudd, former Labor Party leader and Gillard’s predecessor as prime minister, impinged on Gillard’s power of selector discretion by insisting on being made foreign secretary. Instead of doing the “decent thing and retiring at the 2010 election,” Rudd sought to “sabotage the campaign” (Gillard 2014, 42–43). Gillard was “reluctant to give him the position of Foreign Minister, knowing he would try to refuse instruction from me” but she “had little choice: I had to stop what I considered to be the acts of treachery on his part” (2014, 43). From Gillard’s perspective, Rudd embarked on a “remorseless pursuit of a return to the leadership” (2014, 90) and another former ally, Martin Ferguson, switched allegiances to support Rudd, a man he had “long despised” (2014, 80). This was a move that Gillard believed to be “fuelled by a deep resentment of my advancement in politics to a status above his own” (2014, 83).

Julia Gillard’s power to act in feminist ways was also constrained by the institutional context in which she acted. Australian politics is characterized by regular elections, high party-leadership turnover, and precarious, short-term governments, making it harder to sustain governments across time and weakening the position of party leaders and prime ministers. The Australian Labor Party is strongly divided along factional lines, which define governments, cabinet formation, and leadership contests; in addition, the gendered culture of the party is not welcoming to women. Although Gillard had carefully negotiated the formation of an Australian Labor Party–led minority government, this success, rather than empowering her within her party, put her in a more precarious political situation.

Ultimately, the political context in which Gillard formed her post-election cabinet limited her ability to act on feminist principles and to use her discretion as prime minister to break dramatically with past practice by appointing a greater proportion of women to cabinet. When it came to ministerial selection, Gillard was constrained in her capacity to act on her commitment to gender equality; she felt that she had to play down this commitment and could not act as a feminist in the same way that a male selector could. Gillard is an example of a gender equality advocate whose powers of selector discretion were constrained by limitations common to all Australian Labor Party prime ministers and intensified by her gender and status as a woman. As she asked in My Story (2014, 98), “Is that why less respect flows—because the gender roles just do not seem quite right?”

(p.204) When Michelle Bachelet became Chile’s first female president in 2006, she kept her campaign promise to appoint a gender parity cabinet. Her post-election cabinet included 10 women and ten men. Chile’s constitution gives sole appointment authority to presidents, and strong informal rules likewise proscribe other actors from infringing on this discretion. Although Chilean presidents always head coalition rather than single-party governments, the separation of executive and legislative powers gives presidents more secure power to select cabinets than is the case for prime ministers in parliamentary systems. There are strong informal rules in Chile that coalition parties be proportionally represented in cabinet (an informal rule known as the cuoteo), but the president, not the coalition partners, selects all ministers. According to a former minister, “there is no negotiation. The president decides.”36 Another said, “the president can designate alone. Absolutely alone.”37

During the 2005 election campaign, Bachelet explicitly promised gender equality in cabinet, a promise that some political elites viewed with concern. They worried that male party elites with long-established trajectories in leadership positions would be passed over for cabinet posts in favor of women, many of whom were not well known politically. In Chile, however, as in Canada and Spain, overt public criticisms of Bachelet’s promises about gender parity were relatively muted. At the level of public discourse, politicians from across the party spectrum agreed that Chile’s poor showing in terms of electing women to congress and, compared to other Latin American countries, lower rates of women’s labor force participation, were problematic. As a result, party leaders did not openly criticize Bachelet’s promises about gender parity.

Gender played out in several interesting ways when Bachelet formed her post-election cabinet in 2006. First, gendered perceptions about Bachelet in her role as president (and therefore selector of ministers) produced concerns among party elites about her lack of communication over the two-week period during which she was assembling her cabinet. Although formal and informal procedural rules about selection empower presidents to make the ultimate decision about appointments, there are nonetheless competing informal rules that encourage communication between party leaders and the president, and some degree of input from party leaders is expected. In the week before Bachelet announced her cabinet, the media reported concerns among party (p.205) leaders that the president was too “distant” and that party leaders were being left out of the process.38 In an interview, a former party president, using clearly gendered language, said: “With presidents Aylwin, Frei, and Lagos, the process [of cabinet formation] was very political. It was discussed a lot with the parties. With Michelle Bachelet, it was [different], as if she were a queen, as if one could not pressure her too much, couldn’t ask her for too much.”39

Perceptions about Bachelet’s “distance” and aloofness are highly gendered, since Bachelet did not belong to the “old boys’ networks” within the parties. Chile’s party elite is strikingly homogenous: it is composed mainly of men, and men from a similar class background, all of whom attended a small handful of elite private schools, attended the same university, and live in the same neighborhoods in Santiago (Joignant, Perello, and Torres 2014). Bachelet’s gender, and the fact that it placed her outside of elite party networks, thus contributed to party leaders’ perceptions that she was not conforming to established practices with respect to cabinet formation.

During the 2005 election campaign and in her first year as president, Michelle Bachelet was often subject to political rhetoric that questioned her competence and leadership skills through a gendered lens (Thomas 2011). One of her critics coined the term cariñocracia, from the Spanish word “caring” (cariño), to imply that Bachelet’s popularity with citizens was linked to voters’ (gendered) perceptions about her empathy rather than her leadership skills (Franceschet and Thomas 2015).

Second, the institutional context for cabinet formation in Chile provided some protection to Bachelet in her appointment of a gender parity cabinet. In Chile’s presidential system, the separation of powers means that presidents are not dependent on parties or on support from the legislative branch; they cannot be removed from office for mere political reasons. Presidents are thereby more institutionally empowered to take some risks than are prime ministers. In this context, Bachelet took the modest risk of appointing equal numbers of women and men to cabinet posts.

Third, the institutional context gave support to Bachelet’s principled commitments to gender equality. She frequently spoke about the importance of bringing more women into politics, a call that resonated with concerns about sexism in Chilean society, particularly among women (Thomas 2011). (p.206) Indeed, although Bachelet followed procedural rules and asked party leaders for their recommendations for cabinet, she reminded leaders of her intention to have gender balance in cabinet. She explicitly “asked the parties for lists with names of men and women. She demanded that there be women and men on the lists.”40 In addition to appointing an equal number of women and men to cabinet, Bachelet substantially increased the number of women in key positions throughout government.

Finally, Bachelet was well positioned to appoint a gender parity cabinet by the actions of the previous president in constructing his cabinet. Bachelet’s immediate predecessor, Socialist president Ricardo Lagos, had appointed a record number of five women to cabinet (29.4 percent). Bachelet took the further step of appointing a gender parity cabinet. These factors—gender-based criticism by the established party elite, public support for improving women’s political representation, institutional protection against removal from office, and a prior positive example of an increase in the number of female cabinet ministers—empowered Bachelet to make a promise about a gender parity cabinet, a promise she was able to keep.

Selectors as Gendered Actors

Bachelet and Gillard—both feminists—used their political agency as selectors very differently. Bachelet formed Chile’s first gender parity cabinet, while Gillard appointed women to just 15 percent of her cabinet posts. The contrasting cases of Michelle Bachelet and Julia Gillard reveal the importance of the selector’s own gender as mediated by the institutional and political context. In Chile, political party elites were skeptical rather than hostile to the president’s gender equality commitments, and the public was broadly supportive of Bachelet’s promises of political renovation and inclusion; moreover, Bachelet was more institutionally secure and freer to take risks in cabinet formation. The political climate in Australia was far less propitious for using cabinet formation to make a statement about the importance of gender equality. Gillard’s party, the opposition, and the media were actively hostile to her as prime minister and as a woman—hostility that constrained her range and choice of action. Gillard made no promise to appoint women to cabinet, and she did not assert herself as a woman holding public office. (p.207) Furthermore, in a Westminster parliamentary democracy, Gillard was more constrained by the relative ease with which her parliamentary party could remove her as prime minister.41 Gillard came into office having deposed her preceding party leader and sitting prime minister, Kevin Rudd, and, within a short period of time, had to form a government and lead the Australian Labor Party into a national election. Like her predecessor, Gillard was precariously positioned, easily removable as a result of institutional and party rules and lacking a Labor majority in the Australian parliament.

These two cases underscore the importance of system rules that empower and constrain selectors. Despite facing some hostility and sexist attacks, Bachelet had sufficient support in civil society and sufficient institutional security to promise a gender parity cabinet. Gillard, lacking such support in her own party, and institutionally insecure in her tenure as prime minister, made no promises about women’s political representation in her cabinet and, indeed, felt she had to efface herself as a woman in the context of her campaign. In a context of unsupportive public opinion and sexist hostility, institutional security may embolden a female selector to include women in her cabinet; in the absence of such security, the combination of hostility and misogyny limits opportunities for feminist assertion of gender parity, even by a prime minister.

Ultimately, in both cases, the sex of the selector had major political meaning and consequences for cabinet formation. For Gillard, structurally unprotected from potential removal as party leader, being a woman in the Australian electoral and party context of 2010–2013 was a disability. Bachelet, institutionally guaranteed a four-year (non-renewable) term as president, could withstand personal attacks against her as a woman. In sum, what it means to be a woman as the selector of cabinets depends upon the gendered meanings of sex and politics in the selector’s party and political systems; variation in these meanings can be politically empowered by the institutional arrangements that secure the selector’s discretion.

Conclusion: The Gendered Impact of Cabinet Selection Rules

Political recruitment is gendered in process and outcome. In terms of process, those who are doing the recruiting are gendered actors, working with (p.208) rules that are saturated by ideas and norms about the appropriate roles and behavior of women and men. Gendered processes, not surprisingly, produce gendered outcomes: historically, men have been over-represented as the single selectors of cabinet ministers,42 and men have been over-represented among ministers selected for cabinet. The data for our seven country cases, however, show that male selectors have been increasingly willing to appoint women to cabinet, with men’s dominance among cabinet ministers declining fairly significantly in Germany, Spain, Canada, and Chile, and slowly waning in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Feminist scholars of candidate selection encourage a closer examination of the procedural dimensions of political recruitment, in order to see how gender operates in the different stages of legislative recruitment and selection. One of the most significant gendered barriers to women in legislative recruitment does not apply to ministerial recruitment, namely, the problem of self-nomination. A strong informal rule for cabinet selection is that aspirants do not lobby or actively seek an appointment.43 Moreover, the selection of legislative candidates involves multiple selectors; in contrast, there are few selectors who function as veto players in appointing cabinet ministers, and usually only one: the president or prime minister. Hence, two important gendered obstacles particular to legislative candidate selection are absent in the process of selecting cabinet ministers.

Other gendered barriers found by scholars of women and candidate selection, namely, rules that are informal rather than formal, are magnified in ministerial recruitment compared to legislative recruitment. Comparative studies of gender and legislative recruitment find that women are disadvantaged when processes are governed by informal rather than formal rules. For candidate selection, there is considerable variation, both cross-nationally and within countries, in terms of how formalized (that is, where selection is governed by codified and publicly available rules) the process for recruiting and selecting candidates is. There is little variation in the process of cabinet formation across countries, given that no countries have formal rules spelled out in constitutions to structure the process of ministerial recruitment. Most (p.209) constitutions say little beyond indicating that the president or prime minister shall select cabinet ministers.

Informal rules and, in some cases, formal party rules that increase the number of selectors do not predict gendered outcomes in cabinet. In other words, cabinets with many women or few women cannot be directly tied to rules about who selects ministers and whether there is a single selector or multiple co-selectors. Instead, rules about who selects ministers matter because they determine how much space for political agency actors enjoy. In the countries we examined, most selectors enjoy considerable autonomy to form their cabinets without consulting or negotiating with other actors.44 Selectors share power with other actors only in Germany, where coalition governments are routine, and informal party rules require chancellors to consult with the party leadership, and in the Australian Labor and UK Labour parties, where the parliamentary party has historically played a key role. Elsewhere, prime ministers and presidents enjoy undisputed and sole authority to choose their team.

Rules that empower selectors have important gendered consequences, insofar as selectors are empowered to select women and/or men as cabinet ministers; in every case, the sex balance among the members of the cabinet will be gendered by the preferences of the prime minister or president authorized to appoint them. More specifically, selectors with their own commitments to gender equality can use their agency to achieve favorable outcomes for women. Selectors like Justin Trudeau, Michelle Bachelet, and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero used their selection powers to increase women’s presence in cabinet, sending strong signals to the political class and to society about the importance of gender equality at the highest level of government. As we note, however, selectors may also use their agency to gender their cabinets to advantage men by disregarding public (and party) pressure to improve women’s representation, as did Australian prime minister Tony Abbott.

In Political Recruitment, Norris and Lovenduski (1995) conceptualize political recruitment as an interactive process through which those who select and those who are selected are linked. Such a dynamic applies to cabinet as well. Rules that confer political agency on selectors permit them to establish (p.210) new criteria—such as women’s inclusion in cabinet in greater numbers—that subsequently develop into new rules about who can be selected.

This interactive dimension of cabinet formation establishes a country’s concrete floor, from which selectors use their agency to increase the number of women in cabinet, creating new expectations about women’s inclusion that take hold as informal rules, thus affecting future processes of cabinet appointment. Concrete floors are evident in all our countries, albeit at different levels. The concept is helpful because it evidences the interactive and dynamic components of the selector’s appointment authority and helps to explain why, across all our cases, and despite changes in the party of government, we see very little reduction in women’s cabinet presence. When the numbers of women in a country’s cabinet decrease, from one government to the next, such decline is relatively minimal and short-lived. In sum, rules about selection matter because they create space for political agency; how actors use their power can create newly gendered informal rules that become locked in as concrete floors, leading to sustained levels of women’s inclusion in cabinet.


(1) The exception, as we have shown, is in the UK Labour and Australian Labor parties, where aspirant ministers have, at times, been required to self-nominate to be considered for cabinet elections.

(2) Interview with former minister, May 13, 2014, Madrid.

(3) Interview, May 21, 2012. Madrid.

(4) Mulroney’s predecessor, Pierre Trudeau, had just one woman in his 1980 initial cabinet, and no Canadian prime minister had ever included more than one woman in his cabinet.

(5) Liberal Party, Real Change: A Fair and Open Government (2015, 12).

(6) Cormac McSweeney, “Q & A: Toe-to-Toe with Justin Trudeau on His Latest Promises,” Maclean’s, September 9, 2015.

(7) Kate Heartfield, “The Feminist Cabinet-Maker: Why Trudeau’s Half-Female Cabinet Could Be Much More Than Symbolic,” Ottawa Citizen, October 31, 2015; Shari Graydon, “Gender Parity Is More Than Good Optics,” Globe and Mail, November 4, 2015; David McLaughlin, “Cabinet-Making Tips for the Novice PM,” Globe and Mail, October 27, 2015.

(8) “Loss Would Leave Just One Woman Standing,” The Australian, September 12, 2013.

(9) “Shorten Likely Labor Leader,” The Age, September 10, 2013.

(10) Janet Albrechtsen “The Unheralded Heroine at the Coalition’s Heart,” The Australian, September 25, 2013.

(11) “Libs ‘Shocked’ by Lack of Women in Cabinet,” The Australian, September 13, 2013.

(12) Cited in The Australian, September 27, 2013.

(13) Transcript of Julia Gillard’s speech, The Sydney Morning Herald, October 10, 2012, http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/transcript-of-julia-gillards-speech-20121009-27c36.html.

(14) Note that Abbott holds the Australian record for the shortest tenure of a Liberal Party prime minister, serving from September 2013 to September 2015, at which point he was replaced as Liberal Party leader by Malcolm Turnbull.

(15) “The Election’s Biggest Loser Is Us, Ladies,” The Sunday Times, May 16, 2010.

(16) “Counting the Cabinet,” The Times, May 15, 2010.

(17) Interview, October 29, 2014.

(18) Interview with former minister, October 29, 2014.

(19) Interview with former minister, December 17, 2013.

(20) Ibid.

(21) Interview with former minister, March 23, 2010.

(22) Interview with Australian Labor Party politician, March 20, 2010.

(23) David Crowe, “Fraction too much faction in Labor ‘cabal’,” The Australian, October 14, 2013. See also Dowding and Lewis 2015, 47.

(24) Interview with former UK minister, December 17, 2013.

(25) “A derogatory reference to the highly unpopular (with Labour MPs) government scheme to pay for low-income children to go to private school” (Harman 2017, 134).

(26) Interview with former advisor, July 11, 2016.

(27) Interview with expert on German executive politics, October 28, 2014.

(28) Interview with former minister, October 29, 2014.

(29) Association of Social Democratic Women.

(30) Interview with former minister, October 27, 2014.

(31) Margaret Thatcher, United Kingdom, 1979–1990; Angela Merkel, Germany, 2005–; Michelle Bachelet, Chile, 2006–2010 and 2014–2018; Julia Gillard, Australia, 2010–2013; and Theresa May, United Kingdom, 2015–2019.

(32) “Recipe for Uncertain Government,” The Australian, September 8, 2010.

(33) “Gillard Asks MPs to Name Wish List,” The Australian, September 10, 2010.

(34) Ibid.

(35) “Minister Resigns as PM Juggles New Portfolios,” The Australian, September 9, 2010.

(36) Interview, January 8, 2013, Santiago.

(37) Interview, August 11, 2014.

(38) M. Garrido and F. Torreabla, “Formación de gabinete entra en recta final,” El Mercurio, January 21, 2006.

(39) Interview, August 18, 2014, Santiago.

(40) Interview with former minister, August 11, 2014, Santiago.

(41) Gillard faced two leadership challenges within her party, in 2012 (which she won) and in 2013 (which she lost).

(42) Among our seven country cases, only Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, and the United Kingdom have ever had a woman as prime minister or president, and only the United Kingdom has had more than one (n = 2).

(43) Of course, there are some exceptions that prove the rule. In some cases of contested leadership or negotiating support for leadership bids, political competitors (or even rivals) may make deals where support for a leadership bid is traded for a future cabinet spot. These are fairly rare exceptions.

(44) Even in the United States, where the Senate must confirm presidential cabinet nominees, the Senate generally confirms presidential preferences and has no specific selection powers of its own.