A massive moment happened in the middle of August when Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden selected California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. Harris marks the first woman of color to ever appear on a presidential ballot by a major political party. It was yet another small step in American politics that will hopefully lead to a giant leap in more diversity and inclusion. However, there’s still more work to be done.
Corporate America has slowly taken measures to change its arguably outdated practices. The “old guard” is best described as white, male, and college-educated. Anyone beyond that scope has traditionally had less of a chance at success, whether climbing the corporate ladder or even seeking pay advancement. While companies are now slowly closing the wage gap and promoting pay equity, they are also seeking out candidates who no longer necessarily fit that previous employee mold. With a diversified staff comes diversified ideas. It’s not an outrageous concept, though one that isn’t universally embraced, starting with the American government.
A July 2020 report from the Congressional Research Service showed the race, gender, and age disparity amongst congressional members. The House of Representatives has over 400 members, with only a fourth being women. The median age of House members is around 60 (age ranges from 56-62), with less than 100 members of the House identifying as people of color. The Senate’s diversity numbers are equally dismal, yet the most alarming aspect of this demographic breakdown is how proud the 116th Congress is of this diversity, considering that even a few years prior, these numbers were significantly lower.
It begs the question: how does this change? These seats may be held for multiple terms, so judging by the aforementioned statistics, a House member could occupy their seat well into their 70s. Members of Congress may retire at 62, provided they’ve served at least five years in order to receive their pension. If they’ve served 20 years, they can retire at age 50 with their pension, though given the current age breakdown, it appears that most have not taken advantage of that. Further, it would mean that, even if congressional members started when they were 30, they most certainly haven’t yet retired.
It’s no secret that many who sit in Congress are not representative of the U.S. population in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity, much like the top brass in corporate America. While moves are being made under corporate roofs to remedy this, the same could and should be said for our government. It feels like a distant memory celebrating our first black president, Barack Obama, and a focus on diversification should once again start from the ground up. Creating term limits, such as is done in California, could perhaps allow for new blood to filter into the House and offer new opinions and insight. It is no different from big businesses, who must welcome new ideas in order to flourish. As our current president is a former businessman, the parallels are uncanny, and so should be the measures for promoting diversity.