In November 2008, change, to use a campaign cliché, was coming to Washington. Whether Barack Obama or John McCain won the election, the nation was going to see a new administration, new Members of Congress and fresh faces at government agencies. The Congressional TriCaucus Staff Association wanted to make sure that some of those faces represented a moreaccurate reflection of the country’s multicultural population than had been seen in the past.
The result: The Congressional Black Associates, Congressional Hispanic Staff Association and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association came together under the TriCaucus heading to compile a résumé book that would give lawmakers access to eager candidates from a range of ethnic backgrounds.
Each group had been working on such a project within its own organization but decided to join forces for the common cause.
“Our main objectives are similar, so we said, Hey, let’s work together to bring about diversity on the Hill,’— said Javier Martinez, former president of the CHSA.
Using Facebook announcements, listservs and connections at members’ alma maters, the TriCaucus group put out a call for résumés and received more than 500 in response. Most of the applicants shared ethnic backgrounds with those at the staff organizations, but Martinez said they included others as well.
“We got some people saying, I want to work on the Hill but I’m Anglo. Can I still participate?’— Martinez said. “We didn’t want to discriminate because of race.—
The end result was a meticulously arranged book broken down by the position being applied for: staff assistant, legislative assistant, chief of staff and so on.
Though the TriCaucus association has not tracked how many people have been hired through the listings in the book, members say there has been a lot of interest from chiefs of staff and people in hiring positions. CBA President Brandon Garrett anticipates more people being hired because of it as current staffers move to different offices or to the administration and agencies.
The overwhelming response from applicants showed the TriCaucus members that there is immense interest and talent waiting to be tapped in underrepresented communities.
“Working on the résumé book showed me that there are a lot of minorities out there who are qualified to work on the Hill but don’t have an avenue to apply,— CBA Vice President La’Tanta McCrimmon said.
Working together under the heading of the TriCaucus Staff Association focuses the disparate groups on their common goals.
“I think it gives us a unified voice,— said Irene Schwoeffermann, former president of the CBA. “As people who come from diverse backgrounds, we see it as a collective energy.—
Schwoeffermann said that while the TriCaucus group had been known mostly for its social events — the end-of-the-year Christmas party in particular — it is increasingly focused on fostering relationships and helping minorities get to, and stay in, Washington.
“Working on the Hill is an avenue to address the issues affecting our communities,— she said.
A more diverse group of lawmakers and staffers would also be a better reflection of the country, according to Martinez. “There needs to be a larger representation of America here on the Hill,— he said.
One thing the executive members of all three associations have in their favor is that they’re all friendly and work well together, according to CAPASA President Ricky Le.
“A lot of us know each other, but we want to give that opportunity to our members,— he said. Current and former members of the boards emphasized the importance of networking, and said they encourage staffers to make connections that could benefit them personally and professionally.
It’s not enough to attract people to Washington, Le said. You have to keep them here to make greater diversity a reality. To that end, CAPASA will devote much energy this year to working with interns and making sure they maximize their experience.
“We can do a better job of recruiting and retaining,— he said. “With the interns we want to make sure they enjoy the experience and build a network they’ll feel comfortable coming back to.—
The résumé book is perhaps the most tangible result of their work, but the staff associations are also mobilizing to develop more networking and professional development events. Their goal, they say, is to draw fresh faces to Washington and to bolster the experience of those who are already here.
Last fall, the CBA, CHSA and CAPASA got together on a three-day training workshop for members. Each group sponsored one day of the event, focusing on résumé and cover letter critiques and the interview process.
TriCaucus members have said they hope to hold a similar event again and are always on the lookout for ways to get the three associations to network.
While the various members agreed Capitol Hill is more diverse than it was several years ago, there is much work to be done. They hope to help the government get there, working from the inside out.