Charted: Women of color in Congress
The number of women of color holding senior staff roles in Congress trails the general population by a factor of three.
Why it matters: While the membership of Congress is getting more diverse, the senior staff making the most important policy decisions remains largely white and male. That limits the perspectives driving the debate.
What we're watching: Across both chambers, women of color make up less than 6% of all chiefs of staff, legislative directors and communications directors, according to data collected by respective racial and ethnic staff associations.
- That's less than a third of the 19% of the U.S. population who identify as female and any of the following: Hispanic/Latino, African American/Black, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander — according to 2020 American Community Survey five-year estimates.
What they're saying: "Honestly, some of these numbers are pretty upsetting," said Moh Sharma, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association Advisory Board and vice president of the Congressional South Asian American Staff Association.
- Sharma and others say the low numbers, in part, can be attributed to the pandemic, Jan. 6 insurrection and a lack of diversity on campaigns. They also argued there's a bias against women of certain races being able to lead, thus relegating them to deputy roles.
- They also say Democratic administrations typically draw more diverse staffers from Capitol Hill, reducing their ranks in Congress.
Between the lines: "There's a lot of repetition and consistency that's involved in getting folks into those roles," Grisella Martinez, chief of staff for Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), told Axios.
- When she finds Latinos in junior positions who want to be legislative directors or chiefs of staff, she'd meet with them periodically.
- Toward the end of a Congress, when new members are hiring for when they assume their roles the following year, she would forward resumes and repeatedly mention the names of prospective candidates for senior positions.
- "So, a lot of times these positions are filled with diverse staffers by freshmen members and members of color who are in these offices, and it shouldn't just be on them to hire diverse staff," LaShonda Brenson, senior researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, told Axios.
The bottom line: "Diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is actually being asked to dance," said Keenan Austin Reed, president and co-founder of the Black Women's Congressional Alliance.
- "It's the inclusion piece that has suffered."
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to clarify that Moh Sharma is chair of the advisory board at the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association.