The photo serves another purpose: It chronicles the sorry state of
diversity among Senate staffs.
Hundreds of people are seen huddled in at the hearing. Noticeably
absent from the photo are people of
color. The Senate itself is by no
means representative of the United
States’ ethnic and racial diversity.
Currently, the Senate is 94 percent
white, having only one black member, Sen. Obama, three Latino members, Mel Martinez, R-Fla., Robert
Menendez, D-N.J., and Ken Salazar,
D-Colo., and two Asian-American
members, Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii,
and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.
The Senate Hides
DiversityInc asked all 100 senators
to provide information about the
racial and ethnic makeup of their
senior personnel, including committee staffers. We had as much
success gaining that information as
a black, Latino, Asian-American or
Native American applicant would
have getting hired for a senior
Senate staff job.
Each senator, essentially, is a
CEO. The senators answer to no one
when it comes to the employees they
hire for their personal staffs and
committee assignments. That’s
because members of Congress have
exempted themselves from most
labor laws, including the 1964 Civil
Rights Act, the Equal Employment
Act of 1972, the Age Discrimination
Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the
Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Their hiring practices also are
exempt from the federal Freedom of
Information Act, which allows journalists and the public information
about non-classified federal data,
including most federal staffs.
Despite repeated attempts,
DiversityInc was unable to reach
Ken Mehlman, chair of the
Republican National Committee.
174 | DiversityInc June 2006
Howard Dean, chair of Democratic
National Committee, says he’s
proud of the level of diversity of his
staff and criticized the lack of diversity on the RNC staff. The DNC
has people of color in many senior-level positions, including chief of
staff, director of the chairman’s
office, director of intergovernmental
affairs, communications director,
training director, director of specialty media, and three vice chairs.
However, the DNC refuses to provide exact numbers.
We also reached out to influential members of the Senate, including Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist, R-Tenn., Sen. John McCain,
R-Ariz., and Sen. Hillary Clinton,
D-N. Y. Despite letters, e-mails and
numerous telephone calls, none
were willing to discuss the issue or
share their staff numbers.
Paul Thornell, a former Senate
and White House staffer who is
black, says most senators will tell you,
privately, that they hire from within,
promoting senior staffers from the
junior ranks. But with so few people
of color on Senate staffs, that policy
guarantees the status quo will remain
in place for years to come.
“I truly believe that the source of
the problem is not overt discrimination that keeps people of color out
of these positions. The hiring
process is a broken one that has
resulted in relatively few people of
color in senior policymaking positions,” says Thornell, senior vice
president, public policy and field
leadership, United Way of America.
“Limited networks and candidate
pools [and] the practice of hiring
from within without a pipeline of
existing minority employees are
some of the dynamics that contribute to this situation.”
“The fact that this is not a new
problem suggests that the Senate
needs to look at constructive and
innovative strategies,” Thornell says.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Sen. Environment Comm.
Sen. Finance Comm.
Cong. Black Caucus