K Street Insiders

New administration, House turnover raise prospects for more diversity on K Street


Business groups in Washington are hopeful that the incoming Biden administration will prompt a round of hiring that will lead to more diversity on K Street.

Diversity among lobbyists has been little changed over the past two years, but the arrival of a new administration and the departure of several House lawmakers increases the odds of more employment opportunities at trade associations, lobbying shops and law firms.

Congressional Democrats led the way on diversity in 2018, when a record number of women and racial minority lawmakers were elected to Congress. That was followed two years later by Republicans, with 17 GOP women elected to the House earlier this month.

But those trends have not extended to K Street.

The Washington Government Relations Group (WGRG), a nonprofit for African American professionals that works to enhance the pipeline into advocacy, has about 300 members, the same as two years ago.

“We have seen greater outreach for diverse candidates and we absolutely have distinguished and qualified members of WGRG who cover the landscape of issue areas,” said Danielle McBeth, president of WGRG and director of government relations at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

“The 117th Congress and new Administration will further amplify the outreach and likely yield greater diversity on K Street and beyond,” she added.

Women in Government Relations, an organization of female lobbyists, has roughly 1,200 members, the same as early 2019.

“Our membership numbers have been stagnant over the last year,” said Emily Bardach, the group’s executive director. “We are hopeful our numbers will increase next year as we expand our reach outside of the D.C. metropolitan area and employers continue to make professional development a priority.”

Hispanic lobbyists have also seen their numbers remain flat during the past two years.

The Hispanic Lobbyists Association (HLA) engages with about 200 policy and government relations professionals, the same as in January 2019.

Liz Lopez, the group’s president and also YWCA USA’s senior director of social impact investing and external affairs, said the post-election period is likely to bring new jobs for HLA members through initiatives like its new mentorship program for staffers on Capitol Hill.

The ranks of LGBTQ lobbyists are also comparable to what it was two years ago, according to Q Street. Like other professional trade groups, Q Street said the coronavirus has played a role in keeping its numbers unchanged over the past year.

“Like many in our industry, Q Street is trying to find unique ways to engage our members and our colleagues on the Hill in our virtual environment,” said Ben Grove, Q Street president and legislative director for Thompson Coburn LLP.

“We are looking forward to engaging with the newly elected LGBTQ representatives in the 117th Congress and hope we’re able to resume in-person activities at some point in the coming year,” he added.

More House staffers, particularly for Democratic lawmakers, are looking for jobs as the 117th Congress draws near with a smaller Democratic majority after unexpected losses on Election Day. K Street is often a destination for former Capitol Hill staffers.

One organization that has seen its numbers increase during the 116th Congress is H Street Group, an informal group of Asian American lobbyists. The organization now has about 140 people on its mailing list, a 40 percent increase from January 2019.

“H Street Group is focused on diversity, equity and inclusion at the C-Suite level in the lobbying industry and the federal government. It is not just enough to have [Asian American and Pacific Islander] interns and staff assistants. Our pipeline is Capitol Hill and we work to recruit, mentor and support that pipeline,” said Jocelyn Hong, chair of H Street Group and founder of Jocelyn Hong & Associates.

She noted that President Trump appointed two Asian American women to Cabinet-level posts: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley.

“We ask the Biden administration to match or surpass these numbers with Cabinet-level and Plum Book appointments,” she said.

But the push among racial minority groups for diversity in the new administration has run up against a handful of progressive leaders demanding that President-elect Joe Biden exclude lobbyists when hiring for top White House roles.

Progressives last month urged Senate leadership to oppose the confirmation of any nominee to an executive branch position who is a lobbyist or former lobbyist, after progressive groups wrote a letter to Biden in April asking him to vow not to appoint any corporate lobbyists to his transition team, Cabinet or as his top aides.

Black and Hispanic lobbyists argue a ban of that sort would end up shutting out minorities and could make the Biden administration less diverse.

WGRG members have been active in pushing back against those efforts by progressives.

The group’s board of directors and officers wrote to Congressional Black Caucus leadership last week, saying they were “disheartened by the ongoing discourse regarding registered lobbyists serving our country in a Biden-Harris Administration.”

McBeth of WGRG stressed the need for more diversity in government and government relations alike.

“There is a heightened sense of urgency for addressing diversity,” McBeth said.

Tags Diversity & Inclusion Donald Trump Elaine Chao Joe Biden Nikki Haley
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