In light of the recent elections, the U.S. Congress appears poised to look more and more like America — at least in its leadership.
African American lawmakers are expected to have more clout than they have ever had before on Capitol Hill. A total of five Black U.S. Representatives will chair House committees.
Yet, as more and more minorities rise to the top of the institution, their ranks are pretty meager among congressional staff members who play a major role in crafting national policy — especially at the senior level and in the U.S. Senate.
Last August, a report by the Congressional Management Foundation found that only 20 percent of U.S. House staffers are people of color. But where the lack of diversity is most evident is in the Senate where only 6 percent of 4,100 employees nationwide are of color, according to a June 2006 analysis by DiversityInc magazine. That compares to nearly 30 percent of the general population and 34 percent of the magazine's top 50 companies for diversity.
The subject appears to be in the words of 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot, the "crazy aunt in the attic" who no one wants to talk about. Unlike corporate America, congressional lawmakers aren't subject to most labor laws.
Of senior-level staff in the U.S. Senate, about 7.6 percent are people of color — 2.9 percent Black, 2.8 percent Asian and 1.9 percent Latino. This compares to 24 percent of managers (9.7 percent Black, 7.2 percent Asian American and 6.4 percent Latino) and 15 percent of senior-level executives (6.1 percent Black, 4.8 percent Asian American and 3.8 percent Latino) at companies in the magazine's so-called Top 50 for Diversity.
In the early 1990s, redistricting paved the way for the election of 13 more African American members of Congress, leading to an increase in the number of employees of color. It also expanded the pool of qualified candidates for mid- and senior-level positions. Still, especially in the Senate, limited networking and candidate pools, as well as hiring from within, have contributed to the difficulty faced by minorities trying to shatter the congressional glass ceiling. The fault crosses party lines, according to DiversityInc.
"Democrats, who historically have considered themselves the champions of people of color, are no better than the Republicans. With a few exceptions, senators of both parties refused to discuss their diversity problem," the story stated.
In her June 2006 Roll Call editorial, Donna L. Brazile called upon lawmakers to take a hard look at the example they are setting for those they've told to clean their acts up. At the National Urban League, we've made it our mission to help Congress increase its diversity by helping identify and place qualified African Americans in congressional offices.
Marc H. Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.