Who Tells your Story?
There have been few bright spots over these seemingly interminable months, but one for me
was finally getting to see “Hamilton” – even if I had to stream it. While there were any number of memorable moments, I was particularly struck by the final scene and line in which Hamilton’s widow, Eliza, vows to be the voice of her husband’s legacy and asks the timeless question, “who tells your story?” The answer to this and countless similar questions is the great metaphor of so much of what we are dealing with as a nation today.
Storytelling is a powerful and universal ritual that not only shapes history but conveys and
defines values for groups of peoples. Demands are everywhere that stories previously untold, ignored, or dismissed get their due. Institutions great and small are being asked to grapple with the question of whose story they tell and how.
The collective American story is one that deserves airing in all its glory and imperfections. As
the voice of the people, Congress plays an important role in that process. Members fulfill that
function as they share the stories of their constituents and convert them into action that will,
hopefully, resolve the issues at hand. They may not think of themselves this way or ever use
the term, but Congress is, in fact, our national storytellers.
The stories that are told – the voices that are heard are what define our national priorities.
Congressional offices form a mechanism for transmitting stories and shaping responses, and
the more diverse the source of these stories, the more effectively Congress can govern an
represent all Americans.
Over the past few months there have been a number of reports related to Congressional
staffing that cover a number of issues from internships, to staff pay, to staff diversity– or the
lack of it. Two of them covered opposite ends of the staffing spectrum: one from Pay Our
Interns looks at diversity, or the lack of it, at what is often the gateway to pursuing a career in
public service or politics, while the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies continued its work to focus attention to the need to have more representation in the most senior Hill
These and other work remind us of how much progress needs to be made before the offices
that make the laws that govern truly look like the people they are serving.
These findings are disappointing. I spent nearly six years of my Hill career as the Director of the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative, a position that was the culmination of years of working in both chambers and serving in positions where I, as a Latina, was often, was the “first one” or the “only one”. Years later, some progress has been made, but we have so much more work to do in order to create a democratic system is comprised of “We, the people.”
I felt honored to be able to help others develop their careers in public service, something that is very important to me. But for all the inroads made, the experience also left me feeling
While I found a number of very committed offices that understood what over two decades of
research has shown - more diverse teams yield better results, the understanding is far from
universal. Combined with a decentralized, and frankly, chaotic, hiring process on the Hill, how you get to that point – that America’s voices are heard in the place that creates the policy that impacts us all, still remains a hurdle.
The challenges are not a partisan issue even if our national discourse on race and diversity often breaks down that way. This sentiment carries over to the halls of Congress and stymies
meaningful discussions of how an inclusive, and equitable work environment really can result in better public policy. This, in turn, means it is the American people who ultimately, will benefit.
Just because something is difficult, does not mean it is not worth tackling. And, investing in our democratic process is something I believe is definitely worth the effort. So, I offer here some suggestions for all who have a role in the process of hiring Congressional staff or any talent force of change makers who will impact politics or policy.
What’s your story? Each office needs to ask itself it is truly representative of the people it
serves and what diversity means for them. Implying you support diversity is not enough.
Developing a concrete statement about what you stand for is the first step in putting your
words into actions.
Network! Take the same advice you give young professionals who are looking for a job on the Hill. The challenge is our networks tend to look like us. Intentionally branching out to include more diverse organizations, professional groups, and individuals in your network on and off the Hill will broaden the source of your potential hires. network of sources for your resumes –
Be in it for the long game. It is human nature to want results immediately, but this is about
building systematic approach to staffing. This is not about one resume, or one hire. This,
ultimately, is about creating an environment of belonging, that fosters a sense of inclusion and representation.
We are in the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month, a national commemoration established to tell untold stories. Soon, Congress will begin the process of transition to begin their process anew. What an ideal time for offices to reflect on all that has happened this past year and ask how they are telling the stories of their constituents and to explore how their offices reflect and respond to them. It is time think about how to be intentional about building inclusion in this great democratic body that is Congress.
The stories that each person brings to table is part of much larger whole. They are the voices of the American people, and those who are fortunate enough to work in positions whose work impacts communities, nations, and even the world have the awesome responsibility of being its storytellers.