In choosing South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to be his ambassador to the United Nations, President-elect Donald Trump is taking a page from history. The UN ambassador slot ranks among the top cabinet or cabinet-level jobs that have been held most often by women.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, four women have held the UN position. That makes it the third-most female-populated cabinet or cabinet-level post. At No. 1 is the secretary of Labor job, which has been held by seven women, followed by the secretary of Health and Human Services post, in which five women have served. Four women have also served as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, tying it with the UN post for third place.
Haley is also the first woman Trump has selected for one of his administration’s top positions, which will add diversity to Trump’s team. His appointments so far and his rumored cabinet are heavy on white men.
Allyson Zimmermann, executive director of Catalyst Europe, which promotes inclusive workplaces, applauded Trump’s pick of Haley and expressed hope that hers is the first of many female appointments and not a “token” nod. “The presence of more women in senior leadership positions is imperative, both in terms of providing role models for up and coming women and also breaking down the ‘think-leader-think-male’ mindset,” Zimmermann said. “Women represent half of the population and it’s crucial that their talents and abilities are not ignored.”
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In Haley, Trump gets a rising Republican star who became South Carolina’s first female and minority governor in 2011. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley, 44, is currently serving her second term as governor. She previously served in the state’s House of Representatives.
Her appointment as UN ambassador must be approved by the Senate, and members of the chamber, especially Democrats, may take issue with her lack of foreign policy experience. According to the Post and Courier, as governor, she worked with international companies who wanted economic development deals in South Carolina. As part of that mission, she led overseas trade missions a total of seven times. If her nomination is approved, the UN ambassador job would be her first position at the federal level.
Current UN Ambassador Samantha Power, by contrast, was a longtime State Department operative before taking up the post. She joined President Barack Obama’s State Department transition team in 2008, and then served as special assistant to the president and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights on the National Security Council from 2009 to 2013. Likewise, Power’s predecessor, current National Security Advisor Susan Rice, served at state as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs before taking on the role at the UN.
In announcing Haley’s nomination, Trump said in a statement that she “has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country.” He added: “She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”
If confirmed, Haley will join Trump’s administration despite leveling sharp criticism at him as a candidate. Early in the campaign, she endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and said that if Rubio became president, “Every day will be a great day in America.” She also suggested, in her official response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January, that Trump represented “the siren call of the angriest voices.” While she did not mention the president-elect specifically, she imparted a more inclusive message than he presented on the campaign trail, saying: “No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”
Haley has since said that she voted for Trump. In an appearance at the Federalist Society after the election, she said, “While I won’t pretend to have always been (the) president-elect’s biggest cheerleader, I did vote for him and I was absolutely thrilled to see him win.”
While she lacks extensive foreign policy experience, the South Carolina governor does has a history of being able to prevail in politically-charged moments. She was praised by Republicans and Democrats alike last year, when she pushed to have the Confederate battle flag removed from the state capitol, where it had flown for more than 50 years. The order followed a racially-motivated shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston that killed nine people.
Haley has also spoken openly about the Republican party’s troubling relationship with minorities. “The problem for our party is that our approach often appears cold and unwelcoming to minorities,” Haley said, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington last year. “That’s shameful and it has to change.”