While the Biden White House has made tremendous strides in diversity and inclusion with their Black hires and appointments, many have exited their high-profile posts believing the administration does not offer support or opportunities for career advancement, a new Politico report claims.
As many as 21 Black staffers have either left or plan to leave since the 2021 inauguration.
The White House debunks the article saying it was slanted and intentionally excluded quotes from Black staffers painting a positive narrative.
Politico reports that some workers within the White House call it the “Blaxit.”
Symone D. Sanders was the first to leave, opening the exodus floodgates six months ago. Sanders, the senior adviser and chief spokesperson for Kamala Harris, was hired to work at MSNBC shortly after leaving the vice president’s office. Many believed she left because she was not selected to be the White House press secretary, a position that would have made her another one of Biden’s “First Black” appointments.
Other Harris aides, Tina Flournoy, Ashley Etienne, and Vincent Evans would follow Sanders’ lead.
One departure that rocked the politisphere was Cedric Richmond, a White House adviser and director of the Officer of Public Engagement who appeared to be one of Biden’s strongest allies (even before he ran for president). He left his influential role with the president to be a senior advisor for the Democratic National Committee, another powerful position.
In an interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC about John Fetterman winning the Pennsylvania Democratic primary race for Senate, he showed that while he is no longer employed by the president, he remains a supporter, saying, “I am convinced that Fetterman and the Biden agenda will prevail in November.”
Others who are counted in the Blaxit are press assistant Natalie Austin, associate counsel Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo, gender policy aide Kalisha Dessources Figures, personnel aide Rayshawn Dyson, national security council senior director Linda Etim, national economic council aide Joelle Gamble, personnel aide Reggie Greer, national economic council aide Connor Maxwell, chief of staff Ron Klain adviser Niyat Mulugheta, presidential personnel aide Danielle Okai, public engagement aide Carissa Smith, digital engagement director Cameron Trimble, chief of staff Ron Klain adviser Elizabeth Wilkins
Expected to leave soon in the next few weeks, according to White House officials, are Deputy White House counsel Danielle Conley and Council of Economic Advisers aide Saharra Griffin.
Politico interviewed 9 staffers about their leaving.
One staffer, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Politico, “We’re here and we’re doing a lot of work but we’re not decision-makers and there’s no real path towards becoming decision-makers.”
“There is no real feedback and there’s no clear path to any kind of promotions,” the person continued.
Someone else said, on the conditions of anonymity, “They brought in a ton of black people generally to start without ever establishing an infrastructure to retain them or help them be successful. If there is no clear infrastructure of how to be successful, you become just as invisible in this space than you would be if you were not in it.”
It’s not clear whether the anonymous staffers deem African-American Cabinet members such as Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, or Council of Economic Advisers Chair Dr. Cecilia Rouse as “invisible.”
Former press assistant Austin said her departure had more to do with her personal life than professional advancement.
“I loved my experience on the press team and left because I wanted a chance to spend more time with family after nearly three years straight of campaigns and government work,” she said in a statement.
The Black turnover in the administration has raised concern from at least one observer Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a collective that tracks government staff diversity numbers, said he has “heard about an exodus of Black staffers from the White House — ‘Blaxit’” and he believes there is a reason for serious attention to the optics and what this means about the Biden administration’s commitment to meaningful diversity.
“Black voters accounted for 22 percent of President Biden’s voters in November 2020,” he shared. “It is essential that Black staffers are not only recruited to serve in senior, mid-level and junior White House positions but are also included in major policy and personnel decisions and have opportunities for advancement.”
Some of the Black employees who have stepped away point to the deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon. It is claimed she did not provide a space for elevation for Black workers, regardless of the level of their appointment. As the COS, she operates in the capacity of a human resource arm of the White House and signs off on promotions of White House staffers.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who stands in the position Sanders wanted, addressed those allegations, saying, “I have known Jen O’Malley Dillon since 2007 and she has always been a true advocate for diversity and Black staff, here at the White House and on the four campaigns we worked on together.”
NSC chief of staff Yohannes Abraham concurs with Jean-Pierre saying she “is and has long been a strong advocate for the importance of building diverse teams.”
Richmond said the Blaxit is a coincidence and pointed at the large amount of the staffers being young people with ambitious goals that deserve to be realized. He believes there are places willing to pay them more and that is important to consider.
“A lot of people have been at this grind [for a while] and it’s a hard grind” so “a slowing down of the work pace and a better salary becomes more attractive,” he said. “For young African American staffers who can make these types of salaries, it doesn’t just change their plight but their family’s plight.”
One source agrees with Richmond, that money has a lot to do with it. The average starting pay for a White House position is less than $50,000 a year, and the insider implied it makes sense that people would leave, saying “a lot of Black folks in these roles don’t come from wealthy families.”
Erica Loewe, White House Director of African American Media, said the article was intentional about not using the comments from staffers that were “positive.”
“Even though far more current and former staff told Politico about their positive experiences, Politico refused to communicate those findings to readers and instead devoted most of this article to comments that reinforce their narrative and present a disingenuous picture of the most diverse White House in history,” Loewe stated.
Two names not included in the Politico story, but who are African Americans who have left their post with the president’s administration are Trey Baker, Senior Advisor for Public Engagement, and Rykia Dorsey-Craig, Senior Regional Communications Director.
Baker offered his perspective, revealing he was never stunted in his “growth and advancement.” He said, “Every day this administration works to ensure that it meets the goals that the President set on day one – to approach every issue with an eye towards equity.”
“That includes both policy and personnel,” he continued. “I’ve seen firsthand the opportunities for growth and advancement at the White House and know that there’s not only an open line of communication with senior staff but also ongoing efforts to be solutions-oriented.”
Dorsey-Craig stated it was “an honor” for her to serve and celebrated the administration for giving her a promotion.
“Every day that I walk through those gates, I am aware of what an honor and privilege it is to serve in a White House that prioritizes equity and the advancement of staff,” she said. “I was promoted within my first year and now manage the Regional Comms Team — one of the most integral parts of our comms operation. My leadership and ideas are clearly welcomed and recognized by senior leadership and I remain committed to this team and the work we do each day.”
The White House believes their diversity and inclusion numbers are strong, reporting approximately 14 percent of the White House staffers currently employed are Black, adding that will go up as the administration plans on hiring more Black staffers and promoting some who deserve to bump up.
The administration also touts “approximately 15% of Black staff have been promoted into more senior roles, which is greater than the rate for non-diverse staff. Of the Black staff members who have departed the White House since the start of the Administration, approximately 36% have advanced to new roles at agencies within the Federal Government.”
In an official statement, the White House said it remains committed to diversity.
“As the Administration approaches the 18-month mark, we expect increased staff turnover, which is natural and precedented in any administration around this time,” the statement read. “As we look to the future, the Administration is taking concrete actions to ensure we maintain a diverse staff as this point of natural turnover.”