Could limiting corporate candidates complicate Biden’s diversity push?
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has made assembling a diverse team a priority. He also faces pressure from the progressive wing of his party to limit corporate influence on hires for his administration, avoiding candidates from Wall Street or company boardrooms. But some business leaders suggested to the DealBook newsletter that narrowing the candidate pool that way wouldn’t help create a more representative administration.
“Big business is here to help,” said Ronald C. Parker, the chief executive of the National Association of Securities Professionals. Women and people of color in business have “a unique experience that lends itself to being heard,” he said. This week, the N.A.S.P. and seven other trade groups sent a letter to Mr. Biden urging him to prioritize diversity in top economic policy positions and to “reject demands for a blanket exclusion on potential appointees with experience in the corporate sector or financial services field specifically.”
Roger W. Ferguson Jr., one of the most prominent Black executives in the financial industry, recently announced his retirement as the chief executive of TIAA. He is said to be on the short list for Treasury secretary, and gets Mr. Parker’s support.
Only 10 of 327 appointments to federal financial agency posts requiring congressional confirmation over the years have been Black, according to a report by Chris Brummer at the Institute of International Economic Law at Georgetown. Earlier this month, Mr. Brummer was named a member of Mr. Biden’s Treasury Department advisory review team.
The obstacle to more diverse hiring “is not the skill set, it’s the relationships,” said Petal P. Walker of the law firm WilmerHale, formerly a chief counsel at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. People tend to hire those with whom they golf or grab a drink, she said, so it takes “intentional action” to break down established cliques.
The calls to reject corporate candidates ignore U.S. history, said Paul Thornell, a former Senate and White House staff member, of the lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti. The generational wealth gap created by a long history of discrimination leaves fewer people of color able to afford taking jobs in government or nonprofits. “Groups from the far left throw out edicts,” he said, “but these don’t reflect the realities of the American experience or inequality, the racial wealth gap, and may prove counterproductive to diversify the administration and to implement policies that work for all Americans.”