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Tussle in White House over role of women

world Updated: Sep 21, 2011 00:48 IST
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Friction over the role of women in the Obama White House grew so intense during the first two years of the president’s tenure that he was forced to take steps to reassure senior women on his staff that he valued their presence and input.

At a dinner in November 2009, several senior female aides complained directly to the president that men enjoyed greater access to him and often muscled them out of key policy discussions.

Those tensions prompted President Barack Obama to elevate more women into senior White House positions and increase the female presence in the upper ranks of the re-election campaign.

“There were some issues early on with women feeling as though they hadn’t figured out what their role was going to be on the senior team at the White House,” senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said on Monday.

The women’s inclusion issue is featured prominently in a controversial new book released on Tuesday, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President, by journalist Ron Suskind. The book, based on more than 700 hours of interviews, including one with Obama, quotes a number of top officials describing a difficult work environment for women, due largely to the dominating roles of male officials such as economics adviser Lawrence H Summers and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

One of the most striking quotes in the book came from former White House communications director Anita Dunn, who was quoted as saying that “this place would be in court for a hostile workplace... Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace for women.”

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