Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Post-Pandemic Lobbying

The first in a series on tech-enabled, post-pandemic advocacy using the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

The global pandemic has quickly reshaped the operation of Capitol Hill and the business of advocacy and lobbying. Similar to the period following 9-11, when congressional operations were removed from Capitol Hill due to threats of anthrax exposure, technology has enabled continuity of operations through remote work. Our reliance on technology has punctuated existing inequities related to vulnerable communities. On one hand, tech-enabled remote work has promoted efficiency and protected workers from contagion. On the other hand, workers deemed “essential” and working more often in service-related occupations have had fewer options to limit exposure to Covid-19. As business leaders and Congress turn to address recovery and inequity, advocacy undertaken with a lens on diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) can help align client priorities with the agenda moving forward, identify new opportunities, and limit risk.
 
The pandemic revealed resource deficiencies throughout the country that require a coordinated policy response. Congress helped by advancing bipartisan policies to fight the pandemic and stabilize the economy. Lobbyists and advocates followed, acting on a broad set of priorities. This was a classic response – decisive action by a diverse coalition of lawmakers that resulted in strong outcomes.
 
It has been well documented by consulting firms Accenture and McKinsey that diverse teams outperform teams that are not diverse. McKinsey & Company in partnership with The Society for Human Research Management found:
 
“Companies that exhibit gender and ethnic diversity are, respectively, 15 percent and 35 percent more likely to outperform less diverse peers. The same study found that organizations with more racial and gender diversity bring in more sales revenue, more customers and higher profits.”
 
The period directly following the onset of the pandemic reflects Congress at its best in directing action focused on a goal. Even with polarization affecting the process, lawmakers rallied to address broad needs of the American people.
 
In its first post-pandemic legislative responses, Congressional activity incentivized coalitions between Democrats and Republicans, led coordinated negotiations with the Executive Branch, and created a range of policies that while imperfect, have kept our collective ship afloat. To facilitate the work, Congress quickly harnessed tech tools. Following along, lobbyists and advocates plugged in, to create new models of engaging lawmakers and staff. Those able to work remotely remain largely safe; “essential workers”, that facilitate economic activity are not.
 
Nascent economic recovery is on the horizon. Given the diversity of Congress in the 116th session (the most ever), the focus of lawmakers on DEI, particularly equity and inclusion is likely to continue. The pandemic revealed deficiencies in the healthcare system, supply chain management, pandemic planning and response, education, technological infrastructure, and resiliency. The lessons learned in ongoing attempts to manage the crisis has demonstrated that investments in equity – promoting fairness – and inclusion – valuing contributions by varied points of view – can help workers and bolster the economy through resilient business models. Technology has played a critical role by not only fostering communication, but identifying and curing deficiencies, and connecting supply to demand – the core of economic activity.
 
Lawmakers like the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian and Pacific American Caucus, and the Progressive Caucus have championed equity, but a growing number of lawmakers are mindful and acting on this dynamic. Prior to the pandemic, Congress was moving toward a greater focus on DEI. The 116th Congress and in particular the House of Representatives, reflected a record number of hearings focused on inclusion, equity, and technology topics. The extent that equity and inclusion have been covered indicates this is not a fad. Rather, equity and inclusion will serve as a bridge to elevating these issues after the pandemic subsides. Pushed along by changing demographics, economic needs, and other factors, equity will receive heightened priority into the foreseeable future. Even with polarization and differences between lawmakers and jurisdictions, factors like poverty and wage disparities, gaps in the supply chain, volatility in financial markets, cybersecurity, broadband infrastructure to support healthcare and education, and access to clean water will incentivize future action by lawmakers due to the growth in numbers of those affected.
 
In the private sector, this trend accelerated before the pandemic. Business leaders began to focus on equity and inclusion because data began to quantify the value of DEI. It is proven that companies with diverse leadership return higher value. The return on investment from DEI builds resilience, quicker recognition of new market opportunities, lower employee turnover, increased employee satisfaction, and reductions in risk.
 
Advocacy in a post-pandemic environment is similar. Incorporating a lens on DEI in team composition and strategy, can present a significant opportunity to assist clients with post-pandemic work. Understanding the underlying priorities and issues affecting lawmakers and staff will help advocates and lobbyists identify opportunities to engage and connect business with social progress. Organizations that fail to align in policy and message as allies, and to provide solutions will run the risk of losing the attention of lawmakers. For advocates and lobbyists, adapting in this environment is an imperative.
 
About: Additional Signal Insights series on the topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to follow soon.

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