Having top advisers who can broaden lawmakers’ perspectives about how different racial and ethnic communities are affected can help lead to policy responses that better serve all Americans, Ms. Brenson argued.
“If there were more diverse staff that could speak to senators about potential blind spots that may occur in the legislation, I think the legislation would be more responsive to the needs of minority communities,” she said.
She pointed to the Paycheck Protection Program, one of the pillars of the $2.2 trillion economic relief package Congress passed in March. The program has been popular and disbursed billions of dollars propping up small businesses, but studies have shown that minority-owned businesses, and especially Black-owned businesses, have struggled to secure the loans, a policy failure that could decimate Black businesses and communities that rely on them.
Congress’s hiring decisions also ripple well beyond Capitol Hill. House and Senate offices serve as pipelines to Washington’s major power centers: the White House, executive branch agencies, lobbying firms and nongovernmental organizations, as well as state governments.
Top staff members in the House of Representatives are somewhat more diverse.
A 2018 study by the Joint Center found that 13.7 percent of top staff members in the House were people of color. After Democrats reclaimed control of the House in 2019, ushering in the most racially diverse Congress in history, the group updated its tallies and found that the figure had risen to nearly 21 percent.
In the Senate, Democrats are significantly more likely to employ a top aide of color. Racial minorities made up only 4 percent of top staff members for Republican senators, compared with 19 percent for Democrats.
In recent years, Senate Democrats have undertaken a diversity initiative meant to help recruit, vet and retain a pool of candidates for job openings in the Senate. They have also instituted their own so-called Rooney Rule, asking Democratic offices to interview at least one minority candidate for each job opening. The term refers to a rule in the National Football League that requires teams to interview minority candidates for coaching and management positions.