Positive Changes: House Rules on Staff Diversity

Diversity matters. In a world that is both diverse and deeply interconnected, companies and institutions with greater levels of diversity are achieving better performance. Most organisations, including McKinsey, have more work to do to take full advantage of the opportunity presented by a more diverse leadership team. Organisations also have more work to do on their talent pipeline to attract, develop, mentor, sponsor, and retain the next generations of diverse leaders at all levels. But with the rewards of diversity set to increase, investing now is the best plan. Winners will pull further ahead and laggards will fall further behind. – Management Consulting Report “Diversity Matters,” McKinsey & Co.

The National Urban League congratulates the U.S. House of Representatives, which approved a rules package creating a new Office of Diversity and Inclusion and requiring the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer and the development of a diversity plan.

Congressional staff diversity has long been a top priority of the National Urban League. Just last month, we joined with more than 60 other national civil and human rights organizations and stakeholders in sending a letter calling on Members of Congress to prioritize diversity in hiring top staff.

In the letter we encouraged the Members to take the following steps:

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 midlevel 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.

These are the same recommendations we made when we hosted a panel on diversity at the U.S. Senate nearly two years ago.

Soon afterward, we delivered senior-level resumes of qualified, African-American candidates to senators who represent states with a high percentage of minority residents. Our intention was to encourage senators to consider a diverse pool of candidates when hiring for positions like chief of staff, legislative director, and communications director.

Newly-elected Senator Doug Jones of Alabama last January appointed the first Black Chief of Staff in the Democratic caucus, joining Republican Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina and Jerry Moran of Kansas.

In a letter accompanying the resumes we sent to the Senate, I wrote:

At the core of economic civil rights is the idea that all people should have access to jobs for which they are qualified. Despite the progress this country has made related to corporate diversity and inclusion, our Congress, specifically the U.S. Senate, has failed to move the needle when it comes to diversity and inclusion. This is deeply concerning and an embarrassment to our country. While policy decisions affecting all Americans are debated in the halls of Congress, persons of color are largely absent in top-level staff positions. Thus, on issues like education, the economy, health care, and decisions of war and peace, Members of Congress are legislating without the perspective of black and brown staff.

According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, more than 31 percent of top staffers hired so far by newly-elected House Members are people of color. As of September, fewer than 14 percent of top staff in the House were people of color.

The rule change is a significant step toward a Congress that truly represents the rich diversity of the nation and an expansion of economic opportunity for all Americans.

Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League.

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