D.C. think tank says U.S. House must step up diversity hiring efforts after study

By: - November 4, 2019 12:03 pm

Updated, 2:03 p.m. 11/4/19, 5:09 p.m. 11/5/19 with information on Rep. Slotkin’s office

After the U.S. House of Representatives released results regarding its study on diversity and compensation, a leading public policy tank says congressional offices must improve their efforts to recruit and employ ethnic minorities.

U.S. Capitol | Susan J. Demas

An analysis of the House study was conducted by the Joint Center, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy think tank. It used findings from a web-based survey on compensation, benefits and demographics sent to all 10,356 House staff across all member offices, committee offices, leadership offices, and House officer offices. Of all House staff, 51% (5,290) participated in the survey. The study does not disclose the partisan breakdown of survey respondents.

Given the fact that only about half the total U.S. House staff participated in the survey, it is possible that the overall percentage of people of color in key positions is actually much lower than what the study found. Offices with more diverse staffs may have been more inclined to participate.

“After examining the survey results, we know the U.S. House of Representatives needs to increase the number of African Americans and Latinos in key roles in member personal offices and on committees,” LaShonda Brenson, senior fellow for diversity and inclusion at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies told the Advance. “In the future, we hope to see the U.S. House release more robust disaggregated data on its staff and more disaggregated data by individual committees.”

Following up on the House report, the Advance further surveyed Michigan’s 14-member delegation on diversity for the chief of staff position, but seven members’ offices* — including all six Republicans — did not respond. 

Here are key findings of the study:

congress staff
Susan J. Demas

  • The percentage of Black staff in committee and leadership offices (16.3%) is higher than the percentage of the Black population in the U.S. (12.3%). However, African Americans are underrepresented relative to the national Black population in several roles, such as staff director/deputy staff director, communications director/press secretary, and senior policy advisor/policy advisor.
  • Latinos are underrepresented among committee and leadership staff at 6.6%, which is significantly lower than the percentage of the national Latino population (18.3%). The disparity is even wider when compared to the percentage of Latinos in other key roles.
  • The percentage of white staff in committee and leadership offices (69.5%) is higher than the national percentage of the white population (60.4%). The gap is even wider when compared to the percentage of whites in other key roles.
  • The percentage of Asian American staff in committee and leadership Offices (8.4%) is higher than the percentage of the national Asian American population (5.5%). Asian Americans are proportionately represented in key roles such as staff director/deputy staff director and communications director/press secretary, but underrepresented in senior policy advisor/policy advisor positions.
  • The percentage of Native American and Hawaiian staff in committee and leadership offices (2.5%) is higher than the national Native American and Hawaiian population (.7%). Native Americans and Hawaiians are proportionately represented in key roles such as communications director/press secretary, but underrepresented in staff director/deputy staff director and senior policy advisor/policy advisor positions.

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“We can’t fix problems that remain hidden, and sharing this data conveys the message that Congress is working to ensure that all Americans are accurately represented among the staff of representatives they elect to office,” Brenson said.

Nancy Pelosi | Andrew Roth

At the time of the report’s release, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote to her colleagues, “In the near future, we will announce the launch of the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), an initiative that was included in the House Rules Package passed in January of this year. Findings outlined in the Diversity Compensation Study will serve as key guideposts for the ODI, as will guidance from the Caucuses that represent the scope and breadth of diversity throughout the House community.”

Pelosi also indicated in the letter that the Democratic Caucus will adopt “a hiring practice that specifically includes a diverse pool of candidates for all staff vacancies.”

Ryan Anderson, Rep. Tlaib’s chief of staff

After reviewing the U.S. House report, the Advance surveyed the Michigan delegation U.S. House and asked their Capitol Hill office employs a minority as chief of staff. U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) said that Ryan Hedgepeth, who was described by the office as African American and Native American, leads her D.C. office. 

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) reported having a white chief of staff, Ryan Anderson. He identifies as gay.* U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Royal Oak) said that his chief of staff, Ven Neralla, is of Indian descent.  

U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills), Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and Dan Kildee (D-Flint) responded that their chiefs of staff are white*. Mitch Rivard, Kildee’s chief of staff, identifies as LGBTQ.

The office of U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Commerce Twp.), the chamber’s only independent, didn’t respond. None of the six Republicans — U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden), Tim Walberg (R-Adrian) John Moolenaar (R-Midland ), Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland), Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) and Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) — returned requests from the Advance

When asked about the results, Michigan Democratic Party spokesman Paul Kanan said, “Democrats believe in the value of diversity and know that different perspectives and experiences make our party stronger.” 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.