In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Women’s Inclusion in Executive Cabinets

  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Foundations
  • Global Studies
  • The Types of Cabinet Positions Women Hold

Political Science Women’s Inclusion in Executive Cabinets
Farida Jalalzai
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0305


This article focuses on trends in women’s inclusion in executive cabinet positions. It discusses the factors facilitating women’s selection to these positions, the quality of portfolios held, and the benefits that gender diversity offers in the cabinet. The percentage of women cabinet ministers has increased worldwide since the 1990s. Moreover, women have started to obtain positions affording more power that are less traditional. At the same time, women still represent a very small portion of cabinet ministers. Conditions that help promote women to power include leftist governments, higher percentages of women in the legislature, and growing international norms valuing gender diversity. Only 21 percent of cabinet ministers are women, but that constitutes record levels. Increasingly, countries have women in at least 50 percent of cabinet positions. This article is organized as follows: It first provides an overview of theoretical foundations related to cabinet selection; it then assesses facilitating conditions related to women’s cabinet incorporation, focusing first on global findings, followed by regional findings. It then addresses types of positions held as well as gender differences in backgrounds. Finally, it outlines the benefits of diverse cabinets.

Theoretical Foundations

Scholars have made important theoretical contributions to the study of women in government cabinets. Informal and formal rules guide the cabinet-selection process and this involves actors/institutions choosing ministers and those deemed eligible for selection. Annesley, et al. 2017 notes that presidents or prime ministers tend to possess formal authority to choose their ministers. In parliamentary systems, a main selector is the prime minister. In presidential systems, presidents play the leading role in cabinet formation. Some countries require that legislatures approve presidential cabinet nominees to install their cabinet choices whereas others are relatively unfettered in their selections. The eligibility pool varies based on political structure. As Annesley 2015 finds, in most parliamentary systems only current legislators may serve in the cabinet, though exceptions to this exist. In contrast, legislators would normally be barred from simultaneously serving in the legislature in presidential forms of governance. If committed to gender equality, political parties may institute formal rules that require the party in Parliament to select women ministers. Personal friendships and associations also shape the pool of cabinet recruits and thus informal relationships may prove key to women’s selection. In democracies, international norms lead to the expectation that women will be a sizable and growing presence in cabinets. Annesley and Gains 2010 argues that the substantive impacts of being in the cabinet depend on the resources and relationships women can access.

  • Annesley, Claire. “Rules of Ministerial Recruitment.” Politics & Gender 11.4 (2015): 618–642.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1743923X15000434

    This article discusses how the cabinet eligibility pool is constructed, qualifications for positions, and the people selecting ministers. Examining the United Kingdom and Australia—two countries with very similar systems but very different outcomes—Annesley finds that informal rules affect ministerial recruitment. She argues that having more institutionalized rules that place an importance on having diverse cabinet ministers would help reduce some of the gender gaps in cabinet recruitment.

  • Annesley, Claire, Karen Beckwith, and Susan Franceschet. Cabinets, Ministers, and Gender. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190069018.001.0001

    Utilizing a variety of techniques, including elite interviews, media analysis, and cabinet-member autobiographies this book assesses how formal and informal rules create opportunities to increase gender diversity. The authors define the “concrete floor” as the minimum number or proportion of women in a cabinet expected for the cabinet to be perceived as legitimate. At the time of publication, cabinets are largely inclusive of women. Informal rules may create opportunities for women’s inclusion, providing flexibility benefitting women’s selection.

  • Annesley, Claire, Susan Franceschet, and Karen Beckwith. “What Do Women Symbolize? Symbolic Representation and Cabinet Appointments.” Politics, Groups, and Identities 5.3 (2017): 488–493.

    DOI: 10.1080/21565503.2017.1321997

    This article provides a theoretical foundation for examining the symbolic significance of cabinet ministers. The authors argue that the concept of symbolic representation is particularly instructive at the cabinet level, particularly in terms of how gender is used to advance representation of minority groups. More importance has been placed on cabinet selectors to create a cabinet that is balanced. Understanding some of these dynamics will provide better understanding by cabinet scholars of why particular individuals are selected as ministers over others.

  • Annesley, Claire, and Francesca Gains. “The Core Executive: Gender, Power and Change.” Political Studies 58.5 (2010): 909–929.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9248.2010.00824.x

    This study presents a theoretical model to assess processes that lead to gender and policy change. In doing so, the authors examine two feminist actors in the Westminster core cabinet: Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt. They find that Hewitt’s and Harman’s abilities to provide policy change for women is related to important resources and relationships they could access given where they were located within the executive.

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