On The Appointment Road: Women, To The Front!

11/22/2016 09:06 pm ET Updated Nov 23, 2017

Donald Trump's leadership choices signal how he and his administration will govern. Cabinet and other key positions are in play, and the incoming president's personnel decisions are not only practical, but also symbolic -- sending worldwide messages, whether intended or not, as to how he hopes the next four years will unfold.

The president-elect should make a point of including a significant number of women in his senior appointments.

For nearly a decade, I have co-led a bipartisan council with the goal of getting more women elected to high office in the United States. As we've met around the table, I've learned that listening to divergent voices from opposing parties may be unsettling, but not unsafe.

What would be wrong with not having a diverse group of leaders? It's a less effective way to govern.

Researchers say that a mixed group of men and women finds solutions to problems more quickly and creatively than single-sex clusters. A combination of styles, social roles, life experiences, and perspectives not only adds complexity to decision-making, but also solidity.

In Trump's business world, that translates to companies with ample women on their boards being more successful. He has said that women have held high positions in his companies, and his daughter Ivanka is one of his most trusted advisers. Adopting that same emphasis in the White House will stand him--and the nation--in good stead.

His handful of appointments so far have mainly been white men. But there's still time to be inclusive.

Let's put aside the (essential) idea that inclusion is a matter of fairness toward half the population that has been historically excluded from authoritative roles. Rather, this is a moment when Donald Trump can pragmatically appoint leaders who will help him by reflecting the America he will govern. He is, after all, an heir of the greatest Republican of all, Abraham Lincoln, whose "team of rivals" grew out of a recognition that each of his political opponents had a following whom he needed if he was to govern successfully.

In today's terms, an effective team will challenge conventional wisdom and avoid a dangerous echo chamber of approval.

He would be smart to ensure that his inner circle reflects the concerns women bring to the table about community, family life, security, education and health care. These essential aspects of American life determine our ability to compete and prosper -- economic matters that women rank among their highest concerns.

The new administration would do well to consult historians, not just politicians, to inform its top choices. Democrat Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense was former Republican Congressman William Cohen. Similarly, Barack Obama kept on George W. Bush's Secretary of Defense, William Gates. Looking beyond party for cabinet members and senior administration posts opens a much wider pool, especially since Democratic women in high-level political positions have outnumbered Republican women by approximately a four-to-one margin.

Clearly gender diversity is only one factor Trump must consider. Inclusivity also means appointing people of different races, economic backgrounds, and minority groups. President Trump can demonstrate his determination to heal a people whose dreams of a warm and welcoming America have been battered by bitter words shouted and tweeted during the campaign. It's impossible to overstate the importance of listening to those whose voices were drowned out by the frenzied cacophony of deafening rallies.

Such choices will be consequential if Donald Trump is to overcome widespread skepticism and fulfill his expressed commitment to unify our nation and move us forward. With such giant setbacks during the campaign, we now must walk an intimidatingly longer road to reach our goal of strong, calm, steady global standing. The imminent appointments are not enough to get us there, but they will point us in a direction.

President-elect Trump owes it to the American people to surround himself, and us, with a band of highly experienced and competent companions who represent the width, breadth, and depth of our land.

Swanee Hunt leads a foundation in Cambridge working for global security and social justice in the United States. She is the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government