People For the American Way

Congressional Staff Hiring Should Be Rooted in a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion

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Congressional Staff Hiring Should Be Rooted in a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion
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According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, people of color make up 38.7 percent of the U.S. population but only 13.7 percent of top U.S. House staff and 7.1 percent of top U.S. Senate staff. With hiring for the new Congress already underway, now is the time to change those statistics—it’s time for the legislative workforce to reflect a culture of diversity and inclusion. People For the American Way joined the Joint Center and allied organizations to call on Congress to prioritize diversity in hiring. Our four-point plan asks individual members to set clear goals, adopt a diversity plan, adopt the Rooney Rule, and support diversity initiatives within their parties and chambers. You can download our letter here.

Dear New and Returning Members of Congress:

Congratulations on your election to the 116th Congress. This is a time of great staff transition, and as you prepare to fill openings in your office, we believe that you should establish a culture of diversity and inclusion.

We are writing to ask you to prioritize diversity in your hiring, particularly among your personal office top staff (e.g., chief of staff, legislative director, and communications director) and key mid-level staff (e.g., legislative assistant, counsel, policy advisor, press secretary, administrative director). If you will hold a committee or subcommittee leadership position, we also ask that you prioritize diversity when filling any openings for staff director, deputy staff director, chief clerk, deputy chief clerk, policy director, communications director, deputy communications director, general counsel, deputy general counsel, counsel, senior policy advisor, policy advisor, budget director, and professional staff member.

As you may know, the Joint Center’s September 2018 report, Racial Diversity Among Top U.S. House Staff, revealed that people of color accounted for 38 percent of the U.S. population, but only 13.7 percent of top House staff. The Joint Center’s earlier report found that the U.S. Senate was even less diverse, with people of color accounting for only 7.1 percent of top staff.

You have an opportunity to start to change these statistics over the next few months as you hire top staff and key mid-level staff for your offices. This is especially true for newly elected members who are building an entire personal office staff, House committee ranking members who are transitioning to chairs and are doubling their committee staff, and new committee Chairs and ranking members in both chambers who are building their committee staff.

In addition to hiring diverse top and key mid-level staffers, we urge you to take the following steps immediately in preparation for the 116th Congress:

  1. Set Clear Goals: Promptly develop hiring goals to ensure diversity among those hired in new top and key mid-level staff position openings in your office.
  2. Adopt a Diversity Plan: Develop a written office diversity and inclusion plan that includes recruitment and hiring goals, retention and development strategies for staff, data collection and analysis procedures, a clear allocation of responsibility among staff and performance evaluation for implementation of the plan, and unconscious bias training for all managerial staff involved in recruitment, hiring, evaluation, and retention.
  3. Adopt the Rooney Rule: Formally adopt and implement the Rooney Rule, which would require your office to interview at least one person of color for every top and key mid-level staff position opening. Senate Democrats adopted this rule in 2017. Data should be kept to measure the compliance and effectiveness of the rule.
  4. Support Chamber-Wide or Conference-Wide Efforts to Improve Staff Diversity, such as the creation of an independent and bipartisan diversity office, the disclosure of demographic data of staff, and adoption of the Rooney Rule.

In the new Congress, top and key mid-level staffers will have significant influence in developing legislation. They also play a critical role in the oversight of hundreds of administrative agencies that employ over three million civilian and military workers and a multi-trillion-dollar budget and appropriations process.

The experiences and skills of all Americans are vital to your work. Ensuring diversity among your staff will enhance the deliberation, innovation, legitimacy, and outcomes of your office and of the chamber as a whole.

We look forward to working with you.