A new book claims the Obama White House is a “hostile workplace” for women and a “boys’ club,”
“Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President” by Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Suskind discusses pervasive infighting within the administration, and quotes former White House communications director Anita Dunn as saying, “this place would be in court for a hostile workplace.”
“It actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women,” Dunn said.
But in an interview with the Washington Post, which obtained an excerpt from the book, Dunn appeared to walk her comments back, saying she told Suskind “point blank” that the White House “was not a hostile environment.”
“The president is someone who when he goes home at night he goes home to house full of very strong women,” she said. “He values having strong women around him.”
According to the Post, women held many senior positions in the White House but felt outmaneuvered by male colleagues including former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and former economic adviser Larry Summers:
“I felt like a piece of meat,” Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers, said of one meeting in which Suskind writes she was “boxed out” by Summers.
Dunn told Suskind that the problems began during the 2008 campaign. At one point she was viewing a television ad with other campaign officials and was shocked to see no women in the spot.
“There isn’t a single woman in this ad,” Dunn said. “I was dumbfounded. It wasn’t like they were being deliberately sexist. It’s just there was no one offering a female perspective.”
The ad was later reshot, with women included.
“The president has a real woman problem,” an unnamed high-ranking female official told Suskind. “ The idea of the boys’ club being just Larry and Rahm isn’t really fair. He [Obama] was just as responsible himself.”
Dunn told the Post that her husband, now-White House lawyer Bob Bauer, was “surprised to see me as someone who could be talked over in meetings.”
“It’s a place where there is vigorous discussion back and forth. At various times people have issues with their colleagues, but we were united,” Dunn said. “I’ve been very clear that this is a president who values a diverse set of voices on every issue.”
Dunn wouldn’t talk specifics, but added: “I take issue with the idea that [the White House] was a place where senior women weren’t involved in every aspect of every major decision and their voices weren’t heard.”
Yet according to the book, Obama at one point failed to ask Romer for her opinion after soliciting opinions from her male colleagues during a dinner. Incensed, Romer passed a note to Summers threatening to walk out as a result of the snub.
The book was written with White House support: Obama sat for a 50-minute interview with Suskind, who also interviewed other top administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
“Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President” is due out Tuesday.