K Street executives under pressure on diversity

K Street executives under pressure on diversity
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The lobbying world has been under pressure to diversify, and that scrutiny is now turning to the ranks of corporate lobbyists.

Eight of the top 10 spenders on lobbying among corporations have men leading their in-house teams.

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Blue Cross Blue Shield is the top spender on lobbying among corporations and has a woman leading its government affairs. Justine Handelman oversees the policy and representation team, and John Cerisano leads the lobbying team. The second highest spender, Northrop Grumman, has a woman, Lesley Kalan, leading its government relations.

But the rest of the top 10 corporate spenders on lobbying — Amazon, Facebook, United Technologies, Boeing, AT&T, Koch, Pfizer and Lockheed Martin — have men leading their D.C. offices.

Overall, at least 22 corporate heads of companies’ D.C. offices are people of color, according to data from the Washington Heads of Office, a group made up of senior government affairs executives of color. But those in the lobbying world say the numbers should be higher.

“Washington is a sophisticated, progressive, educated, affluent city. But given that environment, the fact that the political and advocacy worlds are not more diverse, it’s a major problem that has to be addressed and it’s a serious issue,” Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council, told The Hill.

Trade associations, lobbying shops and law firms say they are working to diversify their ranks after growing pressure amid the most diverse Congress in history. But critics say the top lobbying jobs at companies don’t see frequent turnover, and they say companies need to better nurture their talent pipeline.

“It’s not for lack of trying within the company. I think the issue, a lot of it is a pipeline problem in Washington,” Pinkham said.

“There aren’t that many folks in the top roles. There are some pipeline folks, but they still have a way to go, and that’s the challenge,” executive recruiter Julian Ha, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, told The Hill.

Some companies are flush with minority and female lobbyists, but just not at the top spot.

Timothy McBride is the senior vice president of government relations at United Technologies. His lobbying team includes two African American men and two women, one of whom is Latina.

Philip Ellender is the president of government and public affairs at Koch, but the company has a woman, Catherine Haggett, as director of federal affairs.

There are also prominent companies with minorities in the highest ranks.

Alphabet, the parent company for Google, is the 11th highest spender on lobbying. Karan Bhatia, who is of Indian descent, is Google’s vice president of government affairs and public policy. In the top 15 spenders, FedEx’s D.C. operation is led by Gina Adams, an African American woman, and Microsoft’s by an African American man, Fred Humphries.

And there are more women in the 11–20 tier of corporate spenders. Victoria Blatter heads the D.C. office for Amgen Inc., Liz Reicherts leads the office for General Motors, and two energy giants, Chevron and ExxonMobil’s D.C. offices, are captained by Maria Pica Karp and Jeanne Mitchell, respectively.

But “a lot more needs to be done,” said Humphries, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of U.S. government affairs. “There’s a lot of exceptional, untapped talent in this town among people of color. We need more investment, more resources, more mentoring and a real, concerted effort to expand our pipelines.”

H Street Group, an informal association for Asian American lobbyists, told The Hill none of their members are leading D.C. corporate lobbying offices.

“It is disappointing that not one of these talented individuals yet leads any of these organizations,” H Street chair Jocelyn Hong said.

The Hispanic Lobbyists Association says 22 percent of their members are corporate lobbyists, with 2 percent of the membership serving as head of a corporate office.

DeDe Lea, an African American woman, is executive vice president of global government affairs at Viacom, leading their D.C. office since 2005. Lea says she’s used to standing out in a room.

“Almost my entire life, except for my four years at Howard University, I was either the only African American or the only woman,” she said. “I was always the only something, and so I learned early on you just can’t focus on that, you just can’t worry about that.”

Gina Adams went to FedEx as an attorney in 1992 and is now senior vice president of government affairs.

“There were a few women in the field, but I can’t remember seeing many African Americans doing the kind of work that I was doing. By 2001, when I was promoted into my current responsibilities, there were still only a handful of minority lobbyists. Obviously, it’s an issue, but I don’t think it preoccupies us. Most of us are out there working hard for our companies or our clients,” she told The Hill.

Adams said the transportation industry has historically been dominated by men.

“When FedEx first started, the people working in our warehouses and delivering packages were men. As we grew into a global corporation, that’s who you saw rise to the top of the company,” she said.

But Adams added that FedEx has taken steps to diversify the workplace and leadership team.

Headhunters say they are increasingly asked by corporations to help diversify their ranks.

“I get asked about my ability to produce a diverse slate of candidates by almost every organization I talk with about recruiting for senior level government relations roles,” headhunter Ivan Adler told The Hill.

“There is a growing awareness among the private corporate sector of the need to have diversity in their Washington offices — ideally in the top roles,” Ha said. “Clients are bringing it up themselves, without our prompting, and applying genuine pressure for folks like us to present diverse slates.”

Ha added there is only so much headhunters can do, though.

“I’ve always implored organizations to promote diversity but also ensure there is support once that person is there through proper onboarding and continued mentorship; they can attract these folks at the more junior level, but can they actually retain them? That’s where it thins out,” he said.

Lea reiterated that it’s up to companies to be proactive about diversity.

“I don’t think there’s a lack of talent available. It just could be there’s a lack of will to go beyond your comfort zone,” she said. Lea said diversity was important for a company like Viacom.

“When you look at all of our brands, we have such a diverse suite of channels— we have BET, Logo TV, Country Music Television, MTV, Nickelodeon,” she said. “We really do reflect a lot of America and because of that, diversity and inclusion are really important issues for us.”

Those in the influence world said that the pipeline to these jobs often starts on Capitol Hill.

“Probably the major pathway going into this field is to work on Capitol Hill,” said Pinkham. “That’s when you get the real problem. Who gets to be a congressional intern? Probably a privileged white kid.”

Adams noted the importance of nurturing individuals coming up in the industry.

“As opportunities to fill senior roles with new talent, minority candidates need to have had the right preparation and experiences to be qualified,” Adams said.

“Diversity has to be a part of overall hiring processes in virtually all industries, including our own.”