By 2045, the U.S. will be a majority-minority country, with people of color outnumbering their white counterparts. Yet this diversity is noticeably lacking among political leadership on the Hill. And for those who work off the Hill in public affairs and government relations, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is also an ongoing challenge.
Two recent reports — the Diversity & Inclusion in Government Relations Survey Report and FiscalNote’s 2024 State of Government Affairs Industry Report — highlight just how much work remains to close the DEI gap.
Why it Matters: The Business Case for DEI
The call for DEI in the private sector reflects broader societal trends toward addressing historical prejudice against minority groups. The business case for DEI has been well-documented. Among the many benefits, stronger diversity scores make companies more adaptable to change and more likely to outperform their peers financially.
Business leaders should give genuine consideration to the cost of running workplaces where many team members feel undervalued or unheard. “The overall survey results reveal the persistent risk of turnover among certain populations due to a lack of inclusion in the workplace,” says Angela Lee, director of communications and programs at the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, board vice-chair of the Diversity in Government Relations Coalition, and contributor to the Diversity & Inclusion in Government Relations Survey Report. Turnover is its own business concern, but in the government relations arena, it can make it far more difficult to influence policy.
Where We’ve Come From
Corporations have come a long way in addressing DEI and historic prejudices. Addressing gender pay gaps and creating more leadership opportunities for women has been a corporate focus for several decades (and accelerated with the rise of the #MeToo movement). More recently, the murder of George Floyd sparked a wave of corporate interest in workplace racial inequalities, giving rise to a broader focus on inclusivity at work.
The State of Government Affairs: 2024 Industry Report
A look at the top trends in the government affairs industry and what you need to be prepared for this year.
Where We Are Today
Despite the prevalence of DEI discussions and initiatives, survey data reveals key disparities in workplace experience based on a person’s demographics.
“It’s as if there are two different workplaces. People may be going to the same office and performing the same roles, but their experiences are completely different,” explains Monica Maybank, founder & CEO of The Almond Group, co-founder of the Diversity in Government Relations Coalition, and co-author of the Diversity & Inclusion in Government Relations Survey Report.
Looking at both the Diversity & Inclusion in Government Relations Survey Report and FiscalNote’s 2024 State of Government Affairs Industry Report, we can see this “experience gap” played out in the numbers.
Members of minority racial groups in government affairs feel they should be paid more — notably Black respondents, 84 percent of whom feel they should be paid more. However, the difference between the experience of Black men and women is worth noting.
For example, while an impressive 94 percent of Black men feel their job performance is fairly rated and 91 percent feel supported by their managers, less than half of Black women (44 percent) agree that they can access career growth opportunities at their organizations (compared to 55 percent of white women).
This indicates that intersectional identities strongly affect workplace experience; those who identify at the cross-section of multiple minority groups may feel the most alone in the workplace. DEI programs for government affairs teams must recognize the impact of intersectionality on their employees, ensuring no group slips through the cracks.
Gender differences are apparent throughout government affairs, with women holding more advanced degrees than men (61 percent to 53 percent) yet fewer leadership positions (27 percent to 36 percent). Yet the most significant gender gaps may be in perceived access to opportunity. For example, just 52 percent of women (compared to 61 percent of men) feel they can access career growth opportunities.
On average, members of the LGBTQ+ community in government affairs are less likely to agree that people of all backgrounds have equal opportunities to succeed in their workplace. What stands out are the differences between male and female LGBTQ+ members, as well as the differences between white and Black LGBTQ+ members.
For example, among LGTBQ+ members, 80 percent of men agree they are included in decisions that affect their work, compared to only 68 percent of women. Likewise, while 79 percent of white LGTBQ+ employees say they feel like they belong at their organizations, only 64 percent of Black LGBTQ+ respondents say the same. Once again, this demonstrates the effect of intersectionality and is something DEI programs should consider carefully.
Just 38 percent of people with disabilities say they can access career paths in government affairs, compared to 57 percent of respondents without a disability. They also feel less included in decisions that affect their work and are more dissatisfied with how decisions are made at their organization. A full 47 percent of government affairs professionals with disabilities feel they would never achieve a leadership role in their company, regardless of performance or qualifications.
Where We’re Headed
In a future where minorities become the majority, governments and businesses that fail to foster diversity and inclusivity will be at a marked disadvantage. But are we headed in the right direction?
“I don’t think we’re going backward,” says Lee. “We’re seeing positive trends; this congress is one of the most diverse we’ve seen.” Though the initial enthusiasm has waned slightly, DEI appears to remain a priority for many companies.
Yet there appears to be a gap between government affairs organizations “valuing” DEI and addressing it — and perhaps this is to be expected. Moving forward, companies should focus on strategies and initiatives that can drive real change. The DGR report recommends conducting audits to assess internal organizational culture, regularly collecting quantitative and qualitative data on workplace experience, and developing a pipeline of underrepresented communities into leadership positions while maintaining a culture to retain them.
Perhaps the most effective approach would be Maybank’s recommendation that DEI be rebranded or even disbanded. The term has become highly politicized, often causing more alienation than inclusivity. She suggests companies rebrand their DEI programs, proposing names such as Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness, or Leading in a New Environment.
Despite the many organizations that hopped on the anti-racism “bandwagon” in 2020, Maybank believes that “you can’t commit to something because everybody else is — you do it because it aligns with your core values.”
Leaders should think deeply about their organization’s values — and even harder about how to make these values appear in the real world. The more welcoming and inclusive the government affairs sector can become, the better it will be for business, government, and society.