Congressional staff are overwhelmingly white. Is change possible?

On Behalf of | Jan 9, 2017 | Employee Discrimination

According to the Washington Post, years of private studies have demonstrated that, while Congress itself is becoming more diverse in response to citizen activism, their staff is not. Workers in congressional offices, from chiefs of staff and top advisors to aides, pages and administrative personnel, continue to be overwhelmingly white.

How big the problem may be is, unfortunately, unclear. Congressional offices don’t have to report the demographics of their staff to the public. Thanks to the work of groups including the Congressional Black Associates and the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association, we have some information on the degree of the disparities. In 2010, for example the CHSA found only 35 out of 498 total congressional staffers were Latino, and nobody thinks the situation has improved since then.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York has a few ideas on how to improve the situation. “The more diverse the Senate is, the better it can serve the American people,” he recently announced.

Democrats, especially, should focus on diversity as they hire truly representative staff in the future. Schumer summed up his recommendations by urging his party essentially to adopt the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” which requires teams to seek out and interview minorities whenever they hire head coaches or personnel in top operations positions. Schumer’s idea is that at least one minority applicant must actually be interviewed for every open staff position.

Schumer also plans to continue the Senate Diversity Initiative, which was originally created by then-Senate minority leader Harry Reid. The initiative includes a clearinghouse of qualified minority applicants for senators to consider.

The Washington Post has confirmed that new personnel practices intended to promote diversity are in the pipeline, which pleases the CHSA.

“The next step will be implementation, and CHSA will continue working to advance and recommend diverse, well-qualified candidates for positions in Congress,” said a spokesperson.

Others were not so sanguine. A lobbyist and former member of the CHSA warned, “you won’t see a lot of progress until you have accountability.”

“The only way that happens is if members publicly report their numbers,” he added.