TechCongress is building 21st century government with technology talent, placing technologists to work directly for Members of Congress through the one-year Congressional Innovation Fellowship. However, in working to bridge the knowledge and experience divide in Congress, it is critical to be aware of, and actively work to improve, the lack of diversity that is present in both the tech industry and Congress.
The reasons for the lack of diversity in Congress are varied, but include the fact that hiring is often based on pre-existing relationships, making it difficult for people without a Congressional connection to get their feet in the door. In addition, many entry level jobs do not pay a living wage, making it difficult for individuals that don’t have another means of financial support to begin a career and subsequently advance in Congress.
TechCongress is committed to building an ecosystem of inclusive cross-sector technology policy leaders—leaders that represent the diversity of the United States. This commitment drives the procedure for our recruitment process and is evident in our results. To be clear, we still have a lot of work to do, but we are proud that we’ve prioritized inclusion from Day 1 of the organization (42% of our fellows overall are people of color, for example) and that we’ve continued to make gradual improvements during the three years of the program.
Our driving principles are worth repeating at the outset: we embrace diversity across multiple dimensions and encourage applicants from underrepresented communities in technology and in Congress, including those from minority gender, race, sexual orientation and socioeconomic groups.
We apply these principles in different ways, and have seen how they can make a difference in recruiting applicants. We partnered with the Congressional Black Associates and hosted the Diversity in Technology Reception during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 2017 Annual Legislative Conference. At the reception, we celebrated and promoted diversity in the tech industry as well as on Capitol Hill. We’ve committed to directing at least 51% of our outreach to groups working with underrepresented communities, and have exceeded that goal in each of our three recruiting cycles.
We worked hard to design our application materials to be broadly appealing. We used an online service called Textio, which reviews your job postings for gender bias. When it comes time to select our fellows, minimizing unconscious bias—which research has shown can have a significant effect on hiring—is very important. During essay review, thanks to a nimble online application tool, we remove the names and other identifying information about applicants in order to minimize any unconscious bias.
And when we interview, we used a predetermined set of interview questions to ask each candidate in order to provide a fair and equal interview focused on the skills and qualifications necessary to perform the job. This also keeps us from asking leading questions or giving priming statements that may benefit one kind of candidate or hurt another. In addition, we’re committed to following the NFL’s Rooney Rule and interviewing at least one minority candidate for each fellowship slot.
At the end of each recruitment cycle, we’re committed to publishing our diversity metrics, consistent with recommendations from Project Include and other groups. It’s important that we be transparent about where we’re succeeding and where we’re falling short to improve our process in subsequent years.
So here is that information. We had a total of 151 applicants for the 2018 cohort of Congressional Innovation Fellows. This is the breakdown of our diversity metrics at each stage of recruitment.
Applicants (151 candidates):
People of Color: 47%
Second Round of Selections (Top 50 candidates):
People of Color: 36%
Final Interviews (Top 12 candidates):
People of Color: 42%
Final Class (Six Fellows):
People of Color: 33%
These numbers indicate that we are making incremental progress towards an inclusive and representative fellowship class. However, the numbers also indicate that there are improvements to be made. First, in our outreach to communities of color (specifically Latinx talent) and our outreach to women with technical expertise. In our outreach to latinx communities, we have struggled to effectively develop partnerships with relevant groups like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
Especially with women, we are falling short of where we should be. Although we spent time and effort recruiting women in tech—we participated in the Women Who Code conference, and conducted targeted outreach to 54 women “influencers” in tech to share our application with their networks, among other efforts—we need to do better. Our overall goal is gender parity— in our applicants, and in our final classes of fellows.
Inclusion is a constant battle and we will never reach a point where we are satisfied with the diversity of our organization. We want feedback and advice about how we can do more. If you have ideas for how we can improve, or constructive criticism about how we’ve done so far, send them my way at Andres [at] TechCongress [dot] io.
And if you know any great, diverse candidates that want to serve their country in Congress, please nominate them for the 2019 Congressional Innovation Fellowship.
There isn’t a silver bullet solution to address the challenge of diversity in Congress. A lot of the challenges, at their roots, result from a lack of resources—principally office budgets and staff capacity. In every recruitment cycle, we commit to piloting actions that will make some incremental change and serve as a model to others.
Inclusion is one of our fundamental values. Our work starts with a focus on broadening access to the levers of power. We embrace diversity and inclusion across multiple dimensions and actively seek and recruit applicants from underrepresented communities in order to do so. This commitment and practice is part of our governing documents, and a value we model as we continue to grow and build TechCongress. We pay a living wage and create a pathway into Congress that— in spite of other great internship and fellowship programs—remains a rare, accessible pathway to Congressional staff roles.
We also understand that we need to do a lot more than just talk about these values. Tactically, we have a responsibility to put these values into action. We connect fellows to mentors who are themselves from underrepresented communities. We’ve taken the Tech Inclusion pledge and are following the recommendations of Project Include. And we are trying to be transparent about how we’re operating—where we’re succeeding, and where we could use some work.