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Black Senate Staffers Push for More Diversity

Staffers sent recommendations to every Senate office

African-American staffers are encouraging Senate offices to diversify. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
African-American staffers are encouraging Senate offices to diversify. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A group of African-American Senate staffers are pushing lawmakers to increase diversity in their offices as they prepare for the next Congress.

The Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus sent a letter and a document of recommendations to Senate leaders and every Senate office Tuesday evening.

According to the documents, the SBLSC conducted a “census” of black staffers that evaluated career status and views on diversity efforts.

“The results were deeply concerning, but not shocking,” wrote Don Bell, president of the SBLSC.

The group’s census determined that of the roughly 3,600 Senate staffers in the nation’s capital, just 5 percent are black. Nearly three quarters of respondents said they “disapproved or were indifferent” to how Senate offices have addressed the needs of African-American staffers.

The census followed a December 2015 Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies report that found racial disparities among senior Senate staff in Washington. The report looked at the racial breakdown of chiefs of staff, communications directors, legislative directors and committee staff directors.

Of those 336 top Senate staffers, the report found 24 staffers of color. Twelve were Asian-American, seven were Latino, three were African-American and two were Native-American. According to the SBLSC, not much has changed since the report came out.

“In our census overall, we found no significant gains in the number of black staffers and overwhelming disapproval or indifference in the current state of diversity in hiring and inclusiveness in office environments,” Bell wrote.

The staffers also pointed out that having more diversity would be beneficial to lawmakers.

“Having a diverse and inclusive workforce both in Washington and in a member’s home state develops a deeper bond with represented communities, and ensures that individuals of all backgrounds are heard,” the staffers wrote in their recommendations to lawmakers.

One recommendation involved establishing a nonpartisan diversity office in the Senate. Currently, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s office hosts the Senate Diversity Initiative, which maintains a candidate database, assists potential staff candidates with writing and interviewing skills, and works with offices on diversity efforts. A spokesman for incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said the initiative would continue under Schumer’s leadership.

But the staffers are pushing for a nonpartisan entity that would be more permanent and address issues on both sides of the aisle.

The proposed office would also track employee demographic data, similar to other federal agencies and private companies, since there is currently no entity in the Senate that does so. The black staffers described this lack of data as “one of the most fundamental challenges” to addressing diversity.

“Congress saw fit to require certain employers to maintain records of employee demographics,” the staffers wrote. “There is no reason the Senate cannot hold itself to this same standard of transparency.”

The staffers also recommended that offices work with outside groups to create fellowships at the senior level and commit to include people of color in each class of interns.

Lastly, they recommended that lawmakers increase resources for the Office of Compliance, which oversees discrimination and workplace grievances at the Capitol. The staffers recommended that the OOC should play a larger role in orientation for new senators and their staff, including anti-discrimination training.

Contact Bowman at and follow her on Twitter @bridgetbhc.

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