President-elect Joe Biden is now in the process of staffing his administration and he’s highlighted a key priority: Building a team that “looks like America.”
According to data he’s shared, Biden’s transition team is one of the most diverse ever — representation that advocates hope they’ll continue to see as the administration works on broader White House staffing and Cabinet picks.
Thus far, 46 percent of Biden’s transition staff are people of color and 41 percent of senior staff are people of color. More than half of the transition staff — 52 percent — are women, and 53 percent of senior staff are women.
When it comes to the Agency Review Teams (ART) — individuals who are focused on the transfer of power at individual agencies — a majority of the roughly 500 people on them are also women, and about 40 percent are members of groups underrepresented in the federal government, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities. As the Associated Press reported, Black men and women are leading over a quarter of the ART teams.
Biden and his team have repeatedly emphasized that diversity is a major priority for them as they prepare for the change in administration. And America supports this move: According to a Vox/Data for Progress poll, 49 percent of all likely voters and 72 percent of Democrats believe his Cabinet should reflect the gender and racial diversity of the country.
Previously, the Obama administration was heralded as one of the most diverse in history, while the Trump administration’s Cabinet was far more white and male. By including a wide range of perspectives on staff, the Biden administration will be able to capitalize on a broad set of expertise and lived experiences that people can bring to these roles.
“As he did during the campaign to his transition, Joe Biden will be intentional in finding diverse voices to develop and implement his policy vision to tackle our nation’s toughest challenges,” Cameron French, a spokesperson for the Biden transition, told Vox.
Advocates say they welcome the administration’s focus on representation and inclusion as part of the transition but note that this is just a first step. They emphasize that they’ll be keeping a close eye on how Biden’s staffing continues and what policy proposals focus on. “How that representation translates into what they deliver is what’s most important to me,” Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, an advocacy group aimed at combating racial injustice, told Vox.
Advocates say growing representation is a critical starting point
Advocacy groups including Color of Change, Democracy For America, and UltraViolet note that growing representation is a critical starting point — and they’re interested to see what comes next.
Robinson said he will keep a close eye on how Biden’s staff and Cabinet hold corporations accountable, and wanted staffers to bring a depth of expertise on racial justice to policy areas, including tech regulation and criminal justice reform. “We are going to look for who’s going to stand up to corporate power,” he told Vox.
As Bloomberg reported, Biden has chosen multiple experts on systemic racism among those who will be spearheading the transition efforts at the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, signaling a major focus on racial inequities. This includes law professor Mehrsa Baradaran, known for her research on the racial wealth gap and disparities in banking, and economics professor Lisa Cook, known for her work examining how racial inequities in wages and education affect underrepresented groups and the broader economy.
While Biden has yet to announce any Cabinet picks, advocates have also noted that they’re interested to see what ongoing engagement from the Biden administration looks like, and if it will factor in the input of activists from underrepresented groups — and promote progressive voices — as it develops new policy proposals. Economic policies including next steps on stimulus and measures to address racial disparities in aid are among the areas where they’d like to be involved.
“I would like to make sure the Biden administration has the ear of all the amazing on-the-ground activists and organizers,” says UltraViolet communications director Bridget Todd. Robinson notes that he’s appreciative of the outreach the transition team has conducted so far, which has included conversations about personnel.
For now, the Biden team has said that it’s focused on tracking and measuring weekly staffing progress and reaching out to an extensive slate of candidates. And as Biden weighs his selections, in addition to his policy priorities, advocates will be closely watching how he continues to follow through on pledges about diversity.