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How Diverse Is Congress? We Really Don’t Know

The recent U.S. election offered one significant bit of good news: The number of women of color in the Senate quadrupled. Now there are four.

Maybe that doesn’t sound all that significant, but at least we know how many there are. We can’t say the same for the other people who work on the Hill.

A new report from NBC News4’s I-Team, an investigative unit that covers the Washington. D.C. area, finds that Congress isn’t following its own laws that ensure diversity among its staff. And that’s a pretty big deal.

The report, pointedly called Congress Not Following Its Own Rules on Diversity, starts with an interesting reveal: “When the I-Team looked for records and numbers on how well congressional staffers reflect the gender and racial makeup of the states their lawmakers represent, we discovered there aren’t any.”

Let’s unpack that. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s reporting requirements for the company that you probably work for are pretty clear—employers with more than 100 employees must track and report their workforce categorized by race, ethnicity, gender, and job category. It’s a federal requirement. Without it, we can’t really know how well or poorly big business is doing on this stuff. (Unfortunately, the information isn’t typically publicly available, as raceAhead’s crack data team is discovering. This makes the tech community’s willingness to publish their own—albeit dismal—numbers, very helpful to the cause.)

There is a report from the Office of Personnel Management on minority employees in the federal workforce, but nothing on Congress specifically.

So, NBC’s team sent a detailed list of questions to the Congressional offices in their coverage area—D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia—asking how their interns and staffers identify themselves by gender, LGBT, race, and ethnic origin. Only seven offices have responded so far. They’ve been busy; I get it.

But if we want to make sure our elected officials understand the needs of the people they actually serve, we need diverse talent in the government leadership pipeline. And, we’ll need to remove barriers to their success—like making sure Congressional interns, who typically come from families of wealthy, connected political donors, actually get paid. Can you imagine how much different the country would be if people from all backgrounds got an equal shot to see their government up close? To make the case, we need the numbers.

So, there’s one thing the four new Senators can do right away that will amplify their impact: Make sure they recruit, retain and report on the diversity of their staffers. Like they’re supposed to.

Here’s an idea: Let’s get the rest of Congress on board! Accountability is a pretty simple thing we can all ask for.

On Point

Media was blindsided by Trump’s victory. More blindspots to comeNieman Lab has a brutal post-mortem that dissects what is wrong with media and reporting today: Personalized social feeds and a revenue model under siege mean that, “American political discourse in 2016 seemed to be running on two self-contained, never-overlapping sets of information.” A lot has gone wrong, but the main culprit is the algorithmic conundrum that is Facebook, they say.Nieman Lab

To talk about the election at work, don’t take sides
Inc. editor-at-large Kimberly Weisul offers some reassuring advice to employers who are dealing with people who are upset by the outcome of the election—or worse, experiencing attacks from other employees or customers. Acknowledge the pain, don’t take political sides, make sure employees have a place to go to feel safe, and return to your own diversity values. “Show that you are walking that walk,” she writes.

Trump and human resources: Here’s what may be coming for your paycheck
Mykkah Herner, the compensation expert at PayScale, reads the tea leaves now that President Trump is in charge: He does not support increasing the minimum wage, is likely to reverse proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, does not support pay equity laws, and is promising tax breaks and health savings accounts for working folks. Maybe. Hard to know for sure.
Payscale blog

Transgender Americans ask for pro bono legal help
Yesterday, Twitter user @dtwps took to the platform asking for lawyers who were willing to help transgender people get their name change and identity documents in order, in advance of an anticipated rollback of their legal rights. What followed was an outpouring of support, but also an astonishing look into the painful red tape nightmare that transgender people often experience. #TransLawHelp
The Guardian

Why are Twitter users dispensing birth control advice?
Because women are afraid that the loss of their Obamacare coverage, which pays for birth control, will put an undue burden on their health and pocketbooks. The advice: Ask your doctor for an intrauterine device or IUD, which can be kept in place for up to twelve years. And stock up on anything else you’ll need before January. Nursing women, order your breast pumps, vitamins, etc. What a time to be alive.

Students are more likely to be bullied in certain states
An analysis of bullying data—bullying prevalence, impact, and prevalence of anti-bullying laws—has generated a list that nobody wants to be on. Michigan has the biggest overall bullying problem in the country, followed by Louisiana, West Virginia, Montana, and Arkansas. (Good job, Massachusetts, you’ve got the lowest rate.) The biggest predictor of bullying behavior says experts, is “reactivity”—that is, the kids who respond to the abuse by crying and who are not protected by adults. Also at high risk: LGBT or gender non-conforming students. I expect that list to grow. Click through for more.
Take Part

The Woke Leader

Is this an opportunity to heal?
Editor Roy Johnson offers an emotional and counterintuitive opinion piece for those who are frightened by the implications of a Trump victory: It had to happen in order for us to confront the  things that keep this country divided. “Had Clinton won I was openly concerned that there may be further violence between police and citizens, citizens and citizens,” he writes. “[I]n order for us to overcome the deep, deep anger that permeated races, religions, classes and political parties over the last year, maybe this had to happen.” But, there are important caveats, he says. Everyone has to bring respect to the table.

The election, unconscious bias and preserving whiteness
In a tough but necessary read, columnist and editor Damon Young digs deep into the history of racial anxiety and supremacy, to unpack for himself how white voters could choose a man who has no real affinity for their daily lives. History is filled with stories of “White people being so appalled and repelled by the presence of Blackness that they willingly and enthusiastically did something that would seem to go against their self-interests,” he writes.
Very Smart Brothas

Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock believe in you
Here’s an open letter we could really use: A rallying cry from two jazz greats for courage through art-making. “As an artist, creator and dreamer of this world, we ask you not to be discouraged by what you see but to use your own lives, and by extension your art, as vehicles for the construction of peace,” they write. They offer 10 steps to better think about creation in a time of turmoil. I loved number 10: “Live in a constant state of wonder.”
Nest HQ


It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.
—Miles Davis