Paul Thornell and Cristina Antelo
Dear President-elect Biden:
We commend you for pledging to make diversity a priority in your Cabinet and senior appointments. You will need people of color in top jobs, especially on your economic team, in order to tackle our complex problems effectively. The intersection of race, inequality, power, and economics demands that we have new voices from underrepresented racial and ethnic communities in jobs where they have historically been excluded.
Recognizing your commitment to inclusiveness, we respectfully offer the below as recommendations to guide your transition and increase the likelihood that you secure and maintain a diverse team throughout your term.
Hire a human resources expert: This critical responsibility should not just be added to someone’s existing portfolio. You need an experienced individual with expertise in recruiting, hiring, and retaining top quality diverse people, and they should report directly to you. It takes a person who knows what to do and not to do. It is actually more science than art, and there are professionals whose expertise would be an asset. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a similar step when she created the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion last year with dedicated staff, following the example of former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid who hired a senior advisor and launched the Senate Democratic Diversity Office in 2008.
Embed inclusiveness in hiring objectives for all administration and regulatory agencies: It will be essential that beyond direct hires, the full apparatus of the executive branch must have diverse teams. Moreover, in addition to top staff positions, leaders in official advisory councils that have been traditionally weak on inclusiveness, such as the Federal Communication Commission, Federal Trade Commission, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and Securities Exchange Commission, must appoint people of color that have formal roles in guiding policy.
Don’t reflexively assign Black and Brown people this task: Too often enterprises default to giving diversity and inclusion activities to minorities who may not have that role in their job description or the decision-making authority. If top Black and Brown staff do not have these HR duties in their formal responsibility, then don’t make them do it simply because they are diverse. Given the top decision makers on your campaign are White, with few exceptions, this task should be theirs to accomplish or you should hire an expert with the authority to get it done.
Engage organizations with strong networks to ensure a broad pool of candidates: There are many well-known organizations and lesser known ones that are connected to communities of color and are proven channels to recruit outstanding, diverse talent. Oftentimes this must be achieved through trusted advisors in their communities that may not always come through traditional hiring pools. Affinity groups, fraternities and sororities, professional associations, alumni organizations, and other informal forums can be quite beneficial to work with to bolster the number of Black and Brown candidates.
Reject blanket exclusions of candidates because of certain previous work experience: There have been calls for you not to appoint individuals for senior roles who come from the private sector. These are misguided and will complicate inclusion efforts. America has far too many problems resulting from racial inequality, lack of economic opportunity, and the legacy of four centuries of formal and informal discrimination. Exceptional, diverse talent should not be excluded from serving in key economic and other administration roles because of where they currently work or who they represent. Many of these potential candidates may come from government, nonprofits, academia, but they also may be in the corporate world where they have gained real-world experience with balance sheets, legal risk, and workforce realities. These blanket exclusions would block experienced talent, many of whom may be the first wealth creators in their families and haven’t benefited from trust funds, inheritances, or other transfers. Blocking them from service would be a self-inflicted wound and a misguided step that does not take into account the different realities between races related to economic opportunity.
Commit to interviewing at least three diverse candidates for top jobs: Go beyond the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” requirement of interviewing diverse candidates for key positions and commit to meeting with three or more such individuals for senior White House staff (assistants and deputy assistants to the president, Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, heads of regulatory agencies, and commissioners or other Senate-confirmed regulatory roles.) With more diverse candidates in the pool, it is more likely that one will be hired for the position. To be clear, the focus here is to ensure more people of color are seriously considered through interviews, without necessarily requiring an outcome tied to hiring quotas.
Ensure that your interviewers themselves are diverse: It will send a strong signal to potential administration appointees that they see people like themselves in decision-making roles. Moreover, diverse panels will be more likely to make better decisions and complement each other in their assessments of candidates. This step can be achieved either by having more diverse individuals take place in the interviewing process as a group or individually, without those individuals necessarily having to own the responsibility themselves.
Make this commitment stick and not just a “flavor of the month”: One way to keep focus, accountability, and pressure on this goal would be to highlight this priority during Cabinet meetings through a diversity and inclusion dashboard. This would hold officials accountable to this priority by showing progress in their staffing and makeup of their advisory councils.
Mr. President-elect, your chance for success depends in large part on having diverse leaders in top jobs in your administration. Especially recognizing the critical role that communities of color played in support for both your primary and general elections, it is important to appoint senior officials that reflect and represent those millions of diverse Americans who stood with you. We hope you and your team are intentional and get it done. Thank you.