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House endorses historic office to increase diversity

‘Significant step toward inclusion’

Merdies Hayes editor in chief | 1/10/2019, midnight

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a rules package creating a new Office of Diversity and Inclusion and requiring the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer and the development of a diversity plan. The passage comes after the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies spent weeks working with the House Democratic Diversity Initiative, the Committee on House Administration, and several personal offices, congressional caucuses, and staff associations on incorporating staff diversity into the House Rules Package. 

“I applaud House Leadership and Members for creating an Office of Diversity and Inclusion,” said Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center. “While more work remains, this package is a significant step toward increasing staff diversity and inclusion in the chamber that the framers designed to represent the people.” 

The Joint Center recommended that the 116th Congress adopt several provisions that were included in the Rules Package, such as the creation of a House Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the appointment of a chief diversity officer. The rules package also requires that the Diversity Office produce a diversity plan, which could include several other recommendations of the Joint Center.

The Rule requires that the diversity plan include “the development of a survey to evaluate diversity in House offices,” which could evolve into the Joint Center’s recommendation that the House collect and disclose demographic data of staff to the public. The rule’s requirement that the diversity plan include “policies to direct and guide House offices to recruit, hire, train, develop, advance, promote, and retain a diverse workforce” could include the Joint Center’s best practice recommendations that offices interview at least one person of color for every opening (the Rooney Rule), create a long-term diversity plan with clear goals, and adopt unconscious bias training for staff with evaluation and management responsibilities.

With the passage of the rules package, the Joint Center urges members of Congress to:

  1. Hire the Chief Diversity Officer in a timely manner;

  2. Hire human resources professionals to ensure stability, success, and effectiveness;

  3. Establish a clear mandate for the office and provide adequate resources for the office;

  4. Release any diversity demographic data collected to the public; and

  5. Allow the office to do its work in an independent, non-partisan way.

“The establishment of a House Office of Diversity and Inclusion is a historic moment for the Congress and reflects the years of work of many individuals and organizations,” said Don Bell, director of the Joint Center Black Talent Initiative. “While I am proud to see this moment, I know that the work continues after today to ensure that this office is effective and independent. It is my hope that the leaders of the Senate take similar action in the new Congress.”