Congressional Diversity Champions
Prior to the Comey debacle and ensuing response (or lack there of) from Congress (more to come in a future post), there had been some bright spots in Congressional action on our issues recently so we do have some reasons to cheer this week, and also plans to remain vigilant about attempted rollbacks to historic protections for marginalized groups.
Let's review some of the highlights from last week.
Trump's nominee for Army Secretary, Mark Green, succumbed to a prolonged campaign by LGBTI rights groups to point out his alarming record as a Tennessee state senator. Also, 241 members of Congress introduced the Equality Act. You can read all about that elsewhere so let's get to what you may not have heard about.
Senator Ben Cardin (MD) has stepped up as a terrific champion for diversity in government, in two key ways:
- He has introduced the National Security Diversity and Inclusion Workforce Act of 2017. Why is this important? Senator Cardin stated that to "put our country on an even stronger footing, we should capitalize on what makes the United States unique and draw from the range of perspectives that represent the vast diversity of the American people."
- He and Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) used their roles on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to ask Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the following questions during his confirmation hearing:
Senator Cardin Question for the Record:
The Department of State Authorities Act of Fiscal Year 2017, Public Law No: 114-323, requires the Secretary to report on the progress the Department of State is making to recruit and retain highly qualified diverse candidates to the Foreign Service and Civil Service. If confirmed, what would your strategy be to diversify our State Department workforce and implement the letter of the law in creating effective mechanisms to recruit and retain diverse candidates?
(Answer: Throughout my more than four decades in business, I have worked hard to build an inclusive and diverse workforce. I will work to ensure the Department reflects the great diversity of America.)
Senator Menendez Question for the record:
As one of the most diverse countries in the world, the U.S. possesses unparalleled foreign policy strength - its diverse citizenry - with its linguistic, socio-cultural, experiential, diaspora connections, and other strengths. Unfortunately, many racial and ethnic groups have been historically underrepresented in the State Department. The most recent numbers available demonstrate Hispanic and Asian representation within the Department of State's workforce are at 6 percent each; and although African Americans represent 15 percent of the total State Department workforce, they only represent 6 percent of the Foreign Service.
Native Americans are virtually non-existent among our Foreign Service agencies workforce. Many of these racial and ethnic groups remain stagnated in low and mid-career positions. This curtails their opportunities for career advancement towards senior level positions, further limiting racial and ethnic diversity among the agency's top ranks. What steps will you be taking to cultivate diversity among the State Department's Foreign Service and more broadly, and in particular among its senior and mid-level leadership?
(Answer: Over the years the Department of State has made numerous efforts to modify its intake of junior officers to create a more diverse workforce. At the same time, the application process has remained competitive, attracting the best and the brightest candidates. Balancing these two objectives diversity and competitiveness - will always be a challenge. If confirmed I will seek creative ways to strike the right balance between diversity and competitiveness, while also ensuring that promotion through the ranks is purely merit-based.)
Senator Cardin, Senator Menendez, and others also support principles of diverse hiring and staffing among their own staff through the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative. Unfortunately, only one side of the aisle is openly embracing these principles.
Why is this important? Our lawmakers need to be informed by staffers with a range of perspectives and experiences, reflective of the range of perspectives and experiences of their constituents, and when it comes to foreign policy, by those whose communities are connected to and affected by our actions.
Staffers are also important because you can't build a diverse bench without creating pathways into public policy for all of us. We will be sharing more in the coming weeks about how our supporters can get involved in tracking and ensuring that more of our legislators embrace these principles in their own hiring and business practices.
While the activities of the last few days have eclipsed some lawmakers' efforts to bring attention to these important issues, their work still needs to be highlighted. Watch for our next post to focus on some of the challenges to making policies and politics more inclusive.