The rise of diversity and inclusion initiatives and organizational focus over the last several years marks an important shift in our nation’s perspective on opportunity.
Strategists across the public and private sectors agree that the social, political, and organizational challenges of the 21st century are increasingly becoming more complex. As a result, the backgrounds of the leaders and teams finding solutions to these challenges requires a broad and diverse skill set needed to address these issues and make sure D&I (diversity and inclusion) doesn’t become a passive buzz word.
Campaigns are no different.
The nation's electorate is increasingly becoming more diverse. So, why aren’t campaigns and political party operative and organizations — at least below the presidential level — more intentional about broadening their campaign staff to reflect this shift?
Our electorate continues to be more brown, female, LGBTQ+, and multicultural, while campaign staffs remain white, male, and typically made up of the same individuals who have run party politics for a very long time.
Candidates can no longer hang their hats on diversity and inclusion in campaign promises and not follow it up with a campaign staff which reflects the growing diversity of the electorate. But this challenge cannot be solved overnight. Without a long-term scalable solution, we’ll continue to face the same challenges year after year.
In a 2017 survey by Inclusv, the 41 Democratic state party organizations that participated revealed they collectively employ 401 staffers and 128 identify as people of color. With the increased votes shares from 2012 to 2016 nearing almost 50 percent for people of color, this demographic only represents 32 percent of the workforce.
Alida Garcia, co-founder of Inclusv said, “We must recognize the direct correlation between who works on campaigns and how those campaigns engage the communities disproportionately impacted by every issue on the national agenda. Authentic and deliberate inclusion is a vital component for candidates to succeed.”
Responding to the need for more diverse staffers on campaigns, my organization created a training program that prioritizes leaders who identify as women, as trans and non-binary, and as people of color. These communities continuously drive the Democratic Party but are historically underrepresented on our campaigns, relative to their vote share. We want to ensure we, as a party, are representative of our voters.
We’ve seen our graduates land jobs throughout the industry. But more needs to be done. In order to improve the makeup of campaign staff, it’s critically important that there be a transformational change to the culture of campaigns. Here’s how that can be achieved.
A change in the narrative.
Diversity must work in tandem with inclusion. Culture change must be more than checking a box. This means campaigns are intentional in the creation of systems to fuel equity and access for diverse leaders and staffers. Systems which create inclusive and diverse staffs but also retain them.
In order for this to be a reality campaigns must transform the way they have traditionally recruited, hired, and trained campaign staffers. Lasting transformational change must incorporate innovation and new processes and expectations, not “fast following.” This includes a productive shift in assumptions and behaviors, as well as improved organizational expectations, policies, and expression of power.
These actionable steps can be put into three core groups.
- Empower diverse and inclusive leadership. They often build inclusive teams that perform at a high level.
- Put D&I in place across workforce and operations. This can only be achieved by having an intentional recruiting strategy and implementation plan.
- Put forward an organizational vision for D&I. There should be inclusive internal and external communication and meaningful diversity and inclusion education.
I am often asked about the idea that emphasizing diversity takes time away from organizational goals or that there should be a focus on “diversity of thought.” My response is two-fold. First, a focus on diversity and inclusion doesn’t take time away from the overall objective. It should be part of the objective. Second, seeking diversity and inclusion doesn’t mean you’re not also seeking the most talented person for the job.
There’s an issue in your organization if it’s thought that prioritizing diversity means you’re somehow de-prioritizing talent. Organizations that are future-focused, innovative, and understand the strategic advantage of having an inclusive staff will be more successful.
Anthony Robinson is the political director at the National Democratic Training Committee, a PAC that provides campaign training for Democratic candidates, staff, and volunteers.