House rules on staff diversity are a positive change

diversity

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.

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.

Top priority

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. 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.” This 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 efforts to improve staff diversity. 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.

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.

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

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