A little more than a year ago, when Hillary Clinton officially launched her history-making campaign for the presidency, she did something else unprecedented. She hired Bernard Coleman as the campaign’s chief diversity officer.
The 36-year-old is responsible for helping Clinton -- the first woman with a real shot at the White House -- build a staff more reflective of the voters she hopes to win over, beyond the usual scrum of white guys who run political campaigns.
Coleman, who says he is the first chief diversity officer ever employed by a presidential campaign, briefly held a similar role at the Democratic National Committee where he was director of human resources for six years.
Clinton desperately needs Coleman, who is also the campaign's head of human resources, to succeed. A diverse staff is key to helping her understand an increasingly diverse electorate, where whites represent a declining percentage of voters. Without votes from people of color, Clinton likely cannot win the presidency -- a lesson she learned in 2008.
“We want to have the most representative staff,” Coleman told The Huffington Post. “We’re always trying to crush it."
And by all accounts they are: Thirty percent of the 700 or so people on the Clinton campaign staff are non-white and 52 percent are women, according to data provided to The Huffington Post by Inclusv, a group that finds diverse candidates for political campaigns, advocacy groups and policymakers and also is pressing for candidates to report their staffs demographic data. (Former Obama campaign staffers founded the group last year.)
Senior leadership on Clinton's staff is 54 percent women and 34 percent people of color, according to the latest data available, from March 31. The campaign won’t break down those figures any further to show what percent of staff are Hispanic or African-American. And, worryingly, the numbers haven't grown since the last time the campaign reported its diversity data in February.
Yet it’s fairly clear -- just on the gender stats alone -- that in terms of staffing, this is likely the most diverse serious presidential campaign in U.S. history. (The smaller Bernie Sanders campaign hasn't yet reported its March data to Inclusv. But in February, a report revealed that, though 31 percent of the campaign's staff are people of color, all of its top paid staff are men.)
There is not an official account of the Obama campaign staff's demographics -- nor of any campaign's prior to this year -- but Clinton 2016 is probably out ahead, Alida Garcia, executive director and cofounder of Inclusv, told HuffPost.
"The [Clinton] headquarters in Brooklyn is likely more diverse than the 2012 operation in Chicago," said Garcia, who worked on Obama's 2012 campaign helping turn out the Latino vote. (Garcia also works with FWD.us,
Clinton's achievement is the result of a deliberate strategy spearheaded by the candidate herself, burned by her loss in the Democratic primaries in 2008, when her campaign seemed targeted mainly to white voters. She's of course spurred forward by the rapidly changing demographics of the country.
“Clinton is really hitting diversity and it’s not by accident,” said Erikka Knuti, a political strategist who’s worked on Democratic campaigns and currently is a communications director for the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union. “The fact that she is doing it speaks to who she is and lessons learned,” she told HuffPost.
Hiring a chief diversity officer is a tactic straight out of corporate America's playbook. Sixty percent of Fortune 100 companies employ a chief diversity officer, according to a 2012 analysis from executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.
Clinton's campaign has far surpassed the business world in diversity, though. The country’s biggest businesses still are remarkably homogenous -- particularly at the highest levels. Fewer than 4 percent of the chief executives who run S&P 500 companies are women, and the number has been falling. For African-Americans the numbers are even more grim. According to data cited by Fortune, black men and women make up 4.7 percent of executive team members in the Fortune 100. There have only been 15 black CEOs on the Fortune 500 -- ever.
There’s plenty of evidence that a more diverse company will see a higher stock price and profits. And it's clear that the demographics of the nation -- i.e. consumers -- require a change. But companies have been slow to move, Billy Dexter, a partner at Heidrich & Struggles, told HuffPost.
“If corporate America wanted to do this, they could,” he said. “Some organizations have.”
The companies that have made inroads have approached the need to diversify as a business imperative, not just a moral one. The idea, Dexter said, is to make hiring diverse people as important as hitting profit goals: assign your best people to the task and look at the numbers quarterly. And the CEO must play a key role in driving the strategy.
As diversity has clearly become a political imperative -- particularly for a Democratic candidate -- Clinton has done just that. In November, one-third of eligible voters in the U.S. will be Hispanic, black, Asian or belong to another racial or ethnic minority group, according to a report out from the Pew Research Center earlier this year. Democratic voters are even more diverse: 40 percent of Democrats identify as nonwhite, compared with 11 percent of Republicans, according to Gallup data from 2012.
Whites, meanwhile, are a declining interest group. This is well evidenced by the obvious racial panic behind Donald Trump's campaign, and in the data: In 2016, whites are projected to make up 69 percent of eligible voters, down from 78 percent in 2000.
Clinton learned all of this the hard way. She lost her bid for the Democratic nomination in 2008 in part by running a campaign that seemed to position her as the mainstream (read: white) candidate in contrast to Barack Obama.
In a tactic the New York Times and others decried as “race-baiting,” she downplayed the amount of white support her opponent had.
“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she told USA Today in 2008. “Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again.”
Obama's path to the nomination and the presidency came with the help of record black and Hispanic turnout. Now, turning out the African-American and Hispanic vote is recognized as critical to a Democratic victory in 2016.
Given these realities, Coleman's mandate to diversify the campaign comes straight from the top, he said.
“If she didn’t say this is important, then no one would move,” he told HuffPost. “The country is evolving and changing. Having diverse voices helps us message. It helps almost every facet.”
The pressure to hire diverse staff is “constant,” Coleman said. “We talk about it with senior staff every week.”
Just this week, the Clinton campaign hired Jess McIntosh, vice president of communications for EMILY’s List. She is known for being skilled at bringing in women and diverse voices, Knuti told HuffPost before the hire was announced.
Coleman said a big part of his job is simply helping the campaign find good people -- and not allowing anyone to take “shortcuts” in hiring. Campaign hiring moves at lightning speed and the temptation is to just quickly bring in people you know well. Unfortunately, that's the easiest way reinforce a culture of sameness. It's how tech companies, which have also grown quickly, wind up hiring bro after bro after bro. One guy knows another guy who looks just like him.
One thing Coleman's learned is if his colleagues take a little more time to think of good candidates, they find they actually know a pretty diverse group. People just need to focus, he said. “You need people to sit down in a room, get off their phones, open a Rolodex and say, 'Who do you know who does this?' You actually know a lot of people. It has to be deliberate.”
After six years with the DNC, Coleman knows a lot of people. The bonus, he said, is people really want to work for the campaign, so they take his calls -- and help him find good candidates.
Even the private sector wants to help. Coleman mentioned that the “open a Rolodex” strategy came from “a guy at Google,” whom Coleman declined to name, who wanted to help the campaign. Google, notably, has a large diversity team, as well as a chief diversity officer, though it hasn't seen much progress.
It is easier to build a diverse campaign staff than a diverse company staff. Coleman has had the benefit of hiring a team from scratch. An established corporation cannot get rid of all its workers and start all over -- it can only hire so many new people every year. And the sense of urgency in a campaign, which comes with a built-in expiration date, is absent from a company.
As Nov. 8 looms closer and the pace of hiring picks up, the Clinton campaign’s challenge will be to maintain its diversity, Garcia, of Inclusv, told HuffPost. There’s still room for improvement, she said, noting that the most recent data showed the campaign had stalled out in its push to diversify and that the percent of people of color on senior staff fell slightly to 34 percent from 36 percent.
Inclusv wants to make sure those numbers rise as staffing scales up for a national campaign. It has been working with the campaign since last year, helping find candidates.
“Quite honestly, based on our prior experience [with Clinton] we anticipated pushback,” said Garcia. “In reality, what we found was a willing and welcoming partner in Bernard Coleman to build upon an accessible ongoing conversation.”
The end goal, of course, is a diverse White House. “At the end of the day, a lot of campaign staff ends up in government managing key policy initiatives for elected officials,” Garcia said.
Coleman is aware of this. “Being White House chief diversity officer,” he said. “That would be pretty cool.”