Joint Center Urges Members to Prioritize Diversity When Hiring Staff for New Congress

WASHINGTON – The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is calling for all new and returning Members of Congress—including floor, committee, and subcommittee leaders—to use the season of filling open staff positions for the next Congress to improve diversity.
"Members of Congress have a real opportunity to address the appalling lack of diversity among top staff in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate as they prepare for the 116th Congress," said Joint Center President Spencer Overton. "Over the next two months, new Members and returning Members of both parties in both the House and Senate will have scores of top and mid-level positions to fill. All of these Members should take this opportunity to hire talented leaders from diverse backgrounds and ensure top and mid-level staff reflect the diversity of America."
The Problem: A Lack of Top Staff Diversity
The Joint Center’s September 2018 report, Racial Diversity Among Top U.S. House Staff, revealed several facts about the lack of top staff diversity in the current Congress, including:
  • While people of color account for 38 percent of the U.S. population, they made up only 13.7 percent of all top House staff.
  • The American public was more likely to elect a person of color to the House than House Members were to hire top staff of color.
  • 313 House Members have no people of color who serve in any of their following “top staff” positions: chief of staff, legislative director, communications director, or full committee staff director.
  • Of the 350 White House Members, only 10 Republican Members and six Democratic Members have chiefs of staff of color.
  • Much of the House Democrats’ top staff diversity comes from Congressional Black Caucus Members. Only 7.4 percent of top staff in the personal offices of White Democratic Members are people of color even though, on average, 37.4 percent of their districts are people of color.
  • Only three percent of White Republican Members’ top staff are people of color even though these Members represent districts that are on average 26 percent people of color.
  • There are no Latinos, Asian American Pacific Islanders, or Native Americans in any of the 40 committee staff director positions or in any of the 24 chief of staff, policy director, or communications director positions in leadership offices of Democrats or Republicans.  
The Joint Center released a similar report in 2015, Racial Diversity Among Top Senate Staff, which included the troubling findings that people of color accounted for only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers.
Actions Members Can Take to Improve Staff Diversity
In both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, new Members, incoming Democratic and Republican Committee and Subcommittee Chairs, and other returning Members should immediately take several steps as they begin to fill open positions:
  • Develop a written office diversity and inclusion plan that includes recruitment and hiring goals and retention strategies for diverse top staff (e.g., chief of staff, legislative director, communications director, staff director) and diverse key mid-level staff (e.g., legislative assistant, counsel, policy advisor, press secretary).
  • Adopt the Rooney Rule, which requires interviewing at least one person of color for every top staff position and key mid-level staff position. Senate Democrats adopted this rule in 2017. House Democrats indicated a commitment to adopt the Rooney Rule in 2017, but have not yet adopted and implemented the rule.

Support proposals that will advance diversity when made by leadership (such as those below).

Republican and Democratic floor leadership in both the House and the Senate should develop diversity hiring goals, adopt the Rooney Rule, collect and annually publish demographic data on each staff position in each office of their caucus, and provide adequate staff and other resources to help identify, prepare, and refer diverse candidates for top and mid-level staff position openings. Senate Democrats have already adopted the Rooney Rule and disclose data annually.
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, founded in 1970, is a think tank that produces data, analysis, and ideas to solve challenges that confront the African American community. The Joint Center collaborates with top experts, various organizations, and others that value racial inclusion to maximize our impact. We are currently focused on the future of work in African American communities and congressional staff diversity.