Advancing diversity in the think tank community
The Think Tank Diversity Action Statement is a collaborative letter and list of recommendations written to increase diversity and inclusion in think tanks. This statement was written by a group of employees diverse in race, gender and political leaning from across the think tank community. It was reviewed by over 30 people working in or affiliated with think tanks, including senior leadership from Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security and the Diversity in National Security Network; think tank affiliates in the private sector; sociologists and academics; and junior, mid, and senior-level think tank staff in management, research, programmatic, and support functions. Below is the statement in full.
To the leaders and decision-makers of the think tank community:
Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020–and after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black Americans at the hands of police–our national consciousness has finally been awakened by deep racial unrest and calls for justice and equity. In this moment, many Americans across disciplines have taken an overdue look at systems that protect and propagate racism, and at the biases that exist within themselves and their own institutions. The think tank community is not immune to these biases.
We recognize that many institutions are taking initiative to address these issues. As members of the think tank community, we are proud of the work we do, and we want to see our institutions grow and succeed. But as we begin to reckon with the lack of diversity within our own ranks, we must consider how best to convert introspection into action.
The think tank community’s primary duty is to produce original research, craft recommendations, and take actions that aim to change or strengthen our country’s foreign and domestic policy for the better. The issues we address are complex and challenging. They require the synthesis and consideration of all possible perspectives to devise strong solutions, and to do so without the lines of intellectual thought that people of color bring to these institutions is detrimental to that goal.
The lack of diversity amongst decision-makers across organizations has severely hindered the ability of these institutions to promote and retain people of color, particularly Black Americans. These organizations, historically founded as white spaces, have perpetuated a non-inclusive organizational culture since their inception. As long as the boards, leadership, and research fellows at think tanks remain overwhelmingly white, the work they produce is a product of the white experience alone, along with the very fabric of these organizations themselves.
Our industry largely focuses its efforts on promoting innovative policy ideas, but inadequately promotes its own staffers of color. What a loss for the United States when organizations cannot see that stifling the latter actively hurts advancement of the former. Our industry must do better.
This action statement provides community-wide standards and tools for think tank leaders to actively integrate people of color and women into our institutions at all levels. It is well-known that while diversity and inclusion initiatives in theory aim to benefit all marginalized groups, in practice they often do not benefit Black people. The recommendations in this statement have been crafted with this in mind. For too long, lip service has been paid to increasing diversity across the field without producing meaningful change. We hope this statement prompts that change.
We urge you, as leaders, to implement the below recommendations, which have been created with input from staffers across the organizations you lead. The following represent options think tanks should consider, along with suggested timelines for implementation. We are aware that certain organizations have adopted some of the recommendations below, but we hope our community will consider adopting them all.
This statement builds upon the work that many groups, particularly the Diversity in National Security Network (DINSN) and Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS), have already done to push the dialogue forward on diversity in the policy community. We intend this document to complement the goals and ongoing work by organizations and individuals implementing the WCAPS Solidarity Statement by Organizations and Individuals Against Racism and Discrimination.
These recommendations are meant to increase transparency and access; strengthen recruitment and retention; and promote individual accountability. We recognize that the financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have deeply affected the think tank community; we propose the following timelines for these actions with this in mind.
We also recognize that the size of an organization will impact the implementation of the below measures.
Action Area One: Transparency
Publicly publish an institutional annual report on workforce and board makeup by race and gender.
Timeline: 1 year
Use data to identify gaps. Statistics on workforce makeup allow institutions to identify where they can do better, set benchmarks to do so, and evaluate progress year-on-year.
Disaggregate workforce data by job function and leadership level. Increasing overall diversity is good, but largely ineffective if people of color are not better represented in positions with decision-making capacity and the ability to effect change.
Publish data publicly. Transparency not only helps to hold us accountable as a community, but allows people of color interested in a think tank career to factor inclusivity into their employment decisions. It is difficult to evaluate the overall workforce makeup of this industry because this data is only published by a few institutions and often is not disaggregated.
Institutionalize the Think Tank Diversity Consortium.
Timeline: 1 year
The Think Tank Diversity Consortium was originally founded to discuss measures taken by think tanks to increase diversity. This platform should be reinvigorated to encourage community-wide information sharing, collective solutions, and commitments to increasing representation, and should be expanded to include all think tanks and made an integral and institutionalized aspect of the community.
Establish a Think Tank Diversity Consortium website and ensure meeting agendas and minutes are publicly available. All members of the think tank community should be able to access information on meetings including topics discussed, areas identified for improvement, next steps, and progress toward goals.
Assign a designated representative from every institution to take part. Formalize this role in every representative’s job description. This should be a liaison role, through which representatives candidly discuss where their institutions have improved, where they are struggling, and pitch ideas for more effective strategies.
Ensure meetings are held on a regular and consistent basis. Encourage all attendees to bring specific and transparent data about their workforce and present progress on clearly defined benchmarks at each annual meeting. Public town halls can also be utilized to allow community input.
Enable the Consortium to publish an annual, public report on the think tank community’s workforce makeup. On the basis of information shared by each institution, the Consortium should systematically collect and publish data on the community’s demographics as a whole.
Action Area Two: Access
Establish paid internships.
Timeline: 5 years
In the interim: offer virtual internships. Timeline: 1 year
Pay interns a living wage or above. Candidates who do not come from wealthy backgrounds cannot access internship opportunities without a source of income. Interns should be paid a living wage, not minimum wage, which better reflects the income necessary to support oneself.
Offer virtual internships. During the pandemic and beyond, virtual internships can increase access for students who would otherwise be unable to travel to and live in another city.
Create early and heightened visibility within communities of color.
Timeline: 2 years
Washington, DC (where most think tanks are located) is a historically Black city; there should be a pipeline of Black talent into this industry. Think tanks should offer opportunities for high school students, with an emphasis on local schools, to interact and learn about the industry, including, but not limited to, the actions below.
Establish an online lecture series, free online materials, or supplementary high school curricula. Give students and schools access to resources to introduce and stimulate interest in the issues think tanks address.
Partner with existing mentor-mentee programs and surrounding institutions of higher education. Many local colleges, universities, and third-party organizations run such programs with surrounding high schools. Partner with them to foster mentorships with students pre-college, and encourage an interest in think tank careers, policy, and international relations.
Travel to local schools for programming. Rather than putting the burden of organizing travel on parents or schools, think tanks should provide programming at schools to ensure students have equal access.
Action Area Three: Recruitment and Retention
Implement a variation of the Rooney Rule or Mansfield Rule.
Timeline: 1 year
The Rooney Rule is a measure originally adopted by the National Football league to increase diversity among head coaches. It is now implemented across many industries, as well as in certain Senate offices. The Mansfield Rule aims to broaden the pool of candidates considered for positions and opportunities at law firms. It measures and certifies whether firms have “affirmatively considered at least 30 percent women, lawyers of color, LGBTQ+ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, formal client pitch opportunities, and senior lateral positions.”
Require at least three applicants of color be considered and interviewed for every open staff position. This increases the organization’s exposure to talent, and gives people of color the opportunity to serve in positions for which they otherwise would not necessarily have been considered for. Requiring more than one candidate of color be interviewed prevents tokenism in the selection process.
Ensure this standard is applied equally at all levels. At least three people of color should be interviewed for senior level positions as well.
Expand current recruitment networks.
Timeline: 1 year
Recruit from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and widely publicize internship and employment opportunities. Ensure organizations are actively seeking out students of color during the recruitment process. Opportunities should be promoted at public, private, liberal arts, and research universities, and especially HBCUs.
Ensure that every job position, even at the most senior levels, is advertised publicly. The think tank world runs on connections, and employees are well known to be hired informally through professional and personal networks. However, research shows that individual networks are often insular and homogenous. Institutions should ensure that they advertise even the most senior positions, and consider candidates through open calls in addition to those already well-known through professional means.
Address bias in the recruitment process.
Timeline: 1 year
Mandate name-blind recruitment when reviewing resumes and cover letters. Removing names from resumes at the initial stages of hiring removes a major source of bias in the recruitment process that aids in solely screening candidates based on the content of their applications.
Hire an HR representative specifically dedicated to increasing diversity.
Timeline: 3 years
In the interim: incorporate Diversity and Inclusion as the main aspect of a current HR representative’s portfolio, to ensure the institution is interviewing and retaining candidates of color. Timeline: 1 year
Develop a permanent HR position focused specifically on recruitment and retention of people of color. A dedicated HR position would increase attention to potential effects of bias within the recruitment process and company culture.
Invest in the retention and advancement of people of color in junior level positions.
Timeline: 5 years
Non-competitive salaries are prohibitive for young professionals paying off student debt, a group which is disproportionately Black; those saving for graduate school; or those whose circumstances prevent them from accepting such salaries. Through this, hiring cycles self-select for economically advantaged (and often, white) recent graduates who can afford to take these positions for many reasons, including parental assistance or lack of student debt.
Raise starting salaries for junior staff across the board. Retention is near impossible when organizations base raises off of already low starting salaries, making it difficult for people of color to stay and grow, or save money for advanced degrees–often touted as an obvious next step. Lack of mobility, low pay, and unclear paths to advancement create incentives to leave and take higher-paying positions in other sectors. A baseline of $50,000 would be a more appropriately competitive option than what most institutions currently offer.
Institutionalize transparent paths to promotion. In addition to ensuring that paths to promotion exist, opportunities for advancement must have transparent prerequisites to ensure staff are considered fairly and equally for new positions.
Include tuition reimbursement as a benefit for all staff. Nonprofit institutions can legally offer up to $5,250 per employee, tax free, for tuition reimbursement. Though a small amount, it can help to either offset the expense of higher education, or allow employees to take individual classes towards another degree.
Give younger professionals opportunities to publish and speak at events and briefings. Visibility is highly important to younger professionals’ ability to advance in their field. Senior staff should ensure that junior staff are properly credited for their research efforts, and help create opportunities for junior staff to build a strong body of work through independent publishing and speaking where possible.
Correct the possible effects of implicit bias on compensation and titles of current employees.
Timeline: 1 year.
Review current titles and salary levels to ensure parity. On the basis of organization-wide data collected on workforce makeup, analyze trends in compensation and titles based on race and gender. Ensure there is no trend of paying women and people of color less than their white male counterparts. Upon discovering any discrepancies, correct compensation and titles accordingly.
Institute transparent and standardized base-pay scales for every title. Ensure employees are openly aware of standardized base-pay levels at each title across the organization.
Action Area Four: Individual Accountability & Action
Use caution when considering anti-racist, implicit bias, or diversity trainings or workshops for employees.
Timeline: 1 year
Do not assume that trainings will help dismantle racism within systems. Research shows that trainings may not only be ineffective, but even detrimental to the advancement of people of color and women in organizations. In a study of 829 mid-sized U.S. companies, firms that implemented diversity training saw, on average, “no improvement in the proportion of white women, black men, and Hispanics in management, and the share of black women actually decreased by 9%, on average, while the ranks of Asian-American men and women shrank by 4% to 5%” over a five-year period.”
If trainings are implemented, carefully track training type (anti-racist, implicit bias, or diversity) and potential impact. There is some evidence that trainings can lead to a positive change in attitudes, but not necessarily a change in behavior. If implemented, keep track of training type and analyze potential impacts in terms of hiring and other institutional and behavioral changes.
Establish an employee-led group (Employee Resource Group, or ERG) on diversity.
Timeline: 1 year
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are volunteer, employee-led programs designed to foster community, and provide a forum for employees to discuss issues and initiatives related to the group’s goal. Once an ERG is established, it should have open support from the institution through financial and logistical means, and should facilitate a direct line of communication from ERG members to leadership. Every institution in this community should establish an ERG on diversity to formalize a process through which employees can provide feedback on organizational initiatives and culture.
Solicit feedback on diversity initiatives through an ERG. Employees must have a defined avenue through which to address concerns and give feedback.
Commit every organization’s diversity ERG to the common pillars of “culture” and “careers.” These pillars ensure that every diversity ERG, no matter the organizational structure, focuses on both fostering a more inclusive culture and promoting the retention and advancement of people of color throughout the institution’s ranks.
Ensure every diversity ERG has an executive sponsor. Executive sponsors must be senior members of the organization who, though not necessarily involved in the group’s regular activities, support the goals of the group, and act as a direct channel to the institution’s leadership through pre-existing, positive relationships.
Ensure every diversity ERG is funded. Resources, training, speakers, events, and other efforts require funding. To be successful, organizations should invest in diversity and inclusion initiatives just as they do in other areas of institutional development.
Develop a more open culture better equipped to encourage constructive criticism and feedback on diversity initiatives. We note that HR supervision of employee resource groups focused on race and gender can sometimes encourage self-censorship and dissuade transparency and honesty. We encourage institutions to address this issue.
Evaluate managers on what they have done to promote diversity and champion people of color at their institutions.
Timeline: 1 year
Institutionalize actionable commitments to diversity and inclusion as part of performance reviews and promotions. Managers should only be able to advance through their organizations after showing actionable commitments to fostering a more diverse team, encouraging mentorship opportunities for staffers of color, amplifying the voices of employees of color, and other demonstrated commitments to inclusion, in addition to other performance factors.
Ensure that women and people of color are represented on panels, at events, and in publications.
Timeline: 1 year
Strongly encourage that panel and event organizers include women, people of color, and younger professionals as presenters. All events–both private and public–should include a diverse group of presenters and contributors.
Expand any search for contributions from experts outside the organization with a larger emphasis on women, people of color, and younger professionals in the field. Outside contributions to writing and other products should be solicited from diverse communities and sources.
Consciously and actively seek out voices of color. Resources that highlight foreign policy leaders of color, like the #NextGenNatSec lists published by the Diversity in National Security Network and Pipeline of Excellence published by Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation, should be closely consulted when conceptualizing publications or events.
Inocencio Amaro Jr.
Brandon J. Archuleta
Jenna H Ben-Yehuda
William J. Burns
Charles A. Carithers
Samantha Randazzo Childress
S. Paul Choi
Tamara Cofman Wittes
Adom M. Cooper
Makenzie Keough Drukker
Sharon Bradford Franklin
Latanya Mapp Frett
Alison M Friedman
S. Melody Frierson
Devon K. Hill
John Patrick Imperiale
Louisa T. Keeler
Jean H. Lee
Laura Lucas Magnuson
Jessica L. Martin
Thomas R. Mattair
Jannatul "Thamine" Nayeem
Sonia C. Park
Desmond U Patton
Cecilia Joy Perez
Monica Michiko Sato
Richard J. Schmierer
Tammy S. Schultz
Desirée Cormier Smith
Andi Wilson Thompson
Naomi Morduch Toubman
Julia A. Vidal
Heather Wild-Gonzalez Rubio
Byron L. Williams
You may sign the statement through this form. We will update the signatory list as often as possible.
Please include your organization if comfortable. All supporters sign in their individual capacity, but should you choose to submit your think tank, research institution, or supporting organization name, it will be added to the list within the statement in order to demonstrate far reaching support for this statement.
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The undersigned are past and present employees of think tanks, research institutions, and supporting organizations, including: Alliance for Peacebuilding, Aspen Institute, Atlantic Council, Barack Obama Foundation, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Brennan Center for Justice, Brookings Institution, C4ADS, Campaign for Nature, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Center for American Progress, Center for a New American Security, Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Diverse Charter Schools Coalition, Diversity in National Security Network, genEquality, Global Fund for Women, Human Rights First, Institute for China-America Studies, Jamestown Foundation, Korea Economic Institute of America, Lowy Institute, Middle East Institute, Middle East Policy Council, Milken Institute, National Bureau of Asian Research, National Security Action, New America, New America’s Open Technology Institute, NomoGaia, Open Society Foundations, Paulson Institute, Project 2049 Institute, RAND Corporation, Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies, The Henry L. Stimson Center, Truman Center for National Policy, Truman National Security Project, United States Institute of Peace, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation, as well as think tank affiliates and supporters from across the U.S. government, private sector, non-governmental organizations, and academia.
Individuals have signed in their personal capacity, and the opinions expressed here do not reflect institutional positions.