The 115th Congress Not a Model for Diversity

Vice President-elect Mike Pence's selfie at House GOP conference in November (Twitter)
Vice President-elect Mike Pence's selfie at House GOP conference in November (Twitter)

The 115th Congress began its session on Tuesday. It’s being said that November’s elections resulted in the most diverse Congress ever. But that’s not saying much, as the increase from the 114th Congress is minimal. The voice of the people is not representative of U.S. demographics.

Out of 352 men and 83 women in the House of Representatives:

Race Amount Percentage U.S. Population*
White 340 78.0% 77.1%
Black 46 10.5% 13.3%
Latino 34 7.8% 17.6%
Asian 12 2.6% 5.6%
Other 3 0.7% 2.6%

Out of 79 men and 21 women in the Senate:

Race Amount Percentage U.S. Population*
White 90 90% 77.1%
Black 3 3% 13.3%
Latino 4 4% 17.6%
Asian 3 3% 5.6%

2015 U.S. Census Data Estimates

In the House, there are now 83 women. That is a decrease from 84 in the 114th Congress. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is the first Indian American woman elected to Congress, Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla. 7th District) is the first Vietnamese American woman, and Val Demings (D-Fla. 10th District) is the first woman and first African American to represent her district.

There are seven senators in the freshman class, and four are women (all Democrats). They increase the number of women in the Senate to a new record — 21. It is an increase from 20 women in the 114th Congress.

Newly elected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is both the first Indian American and the second Black female senator elected to the Senate (her father is Jamaican and her mother is from India). Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is its first Thai American. Duckworth is also only the second Asian American senator and the first female senator to have served a combat role in the Army. And, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) is the first Latina in the Senate. These senators join Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). As a child, Hirono immigrated to the U.S. from Japan.

Women comprise approximately 51 percent of the U.S. population, yet only about 19 percent of Congress.

The number of Black House members increased from 44 to 46. Latino House members increased from 28 to 34, and Asian American members increased from eight to 12.

There are now three Black senators, an increase from two in the 114th Congress. Latino senators increased from three to four. And, Asian American senators increased from one to three.

In 2015, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos made up an estimated 35 percent of the U.S. population.

The racial and gender diversity in Congress is due to the Democratic lawmakers now present in the House and Senate. Congress remains overwhelmingly white and male compared to the overall population.

Republicans are the majority in the House and Senate. White men comprise approximately 87 percent of House Republicans.

It was House Republicans who voted in a closed-door meeting Monday night to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, a nonpartisan ethics watchdog, which oversees them.

After backlash from the public, criticism from leading Democrats and, ultimately, a few tweets from President-elect Donald Trump about priorities, House Republicans dropped the proposal Tuesday afternoon.

Congress Demographics Reflect American Business Owners, Corporate Boards

According to data published in September by the Census Bureau, white men own most American businesses.

America's Entrepreneurs

Corporate boardrooms remain majority male. Currently, only 4 percent of S&P 500 CEOs are female. DiversityInc Top 50 survey data found a correlation between women representation on boards and diversity-management performance.

The DiversityInc Top 50, on average, has 34 percent more women on its boards than all other participating companies.

This resulted in Top 50 companies having 26 percent more women in level 1 management (CEO and direct reports) than all other participating companies. Level 1 is essential in promoting efficient diversity-management practices and holding the organization accountable for results.

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (No. 5 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) annual corporate survey found investors have been the ones pushing the needle toward diversity and inclusion, as male directors continue to grapple with its value.

According to the results, women directors are much more likely to think board diversity improves company performance — 89 percent compared to 24 percent of men.

Women directors overwhelmingly believe board diversity improves board effectiveness — 92 percent versus 38 percent of men.

One in 10 directors believe the optimal representation of women on boards should be 20 percent or less — 97 percent of those who believe this are male.