CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Michelle Taylor-Robinson Lecture Summary

November 5th, 2010

On November 5, 2010 the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research (CIPR) and the Newcomb College Institute welcomed Texas A&M Associate Professor of political science Michelle Taylor Robinson, Ph.D. from Texas A&M University for the second talk in CIPR’s 2010 fall lecture series. Taylor Robinson’s presentation, “Not Tokens Anymore: A Study of Presidential Cabinets with Particular Attention to Gender” approached the timely topic of gender and political appointments in Latin America.

Taylor Robinson’s study of presidential cabinets in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and the United States (co-authored by Maria Escobar-Lemmon) challenges common assumptions regarding gender in the political sphere and demonstrates the complexity of predicting the gendered impact on Latin American democracies: Females enter office with similar backgrounds as their male colleagues and are no more or less successful as their male counterparts in “surviving” the presidential term. Yet, women do not typically diverge from their male counterparts in the types of issues they promote in office.

Taylor Robinson explained that female cabinet members enter office with no significant differences from their male counterparts in educational attainment, work experience, and group linkages. However, females are less likely than males to be political insiders or to have been previously elected to public office.

How do females compare in terms of political success? Average duration for males in the study was 30 months while females remained in office an average of 33 months. Job position matters but gender does not, according to Taylor Robinson. Individuals appointed to finance, business, and planning positions more often retire early or see a premature “bad end” to their cabinet career. While female appointments to such posts are significantly fewer, females appear to be on a level playing field with their male colleagues in most other cabinet positions.

Overall, Taylor Robinson finds a “robust non-significance of the gender issue” as related to presidential cabinet appointments. No single package of characteristics determines the success of individuals – male or female – once in office.

The number of women appointed to presidential cabinets in recent years has positively increased, and women are unquestionably proving just as successful in office as their male counterparts. However, the “dark shadow” according to Taylor Robinson, is that women may not be much different than men after all; women are “not tokens anymore,” but they are also not likely to bring new or diverse interests into government.

Hear more about Taylor Robinson’s new research in a Podcast of the lecture here.

Image: Michelle Taylor-Robinson and Ludovico Feoli, CIPR Executive Director