Destination diversification: For lobbying firms, breaking down ‘old boys’ network’ reputation is vital

By Brett Johnson
Trenton | Aug 6, 2019 at 6:00 am
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It was a progress report MBI-GluckShaw’s Rudy Garcia was more than happy to provide.

When ROI-NJ last connected with MBI-GluckShaw’s lobbying arm, it was immediately after Garcia inherited the firm’s highest-ranking seat with the retirement of two former leaders. With him taking that post, the former Union City mayor — also the only Hispanic legislator when he was elected to the state Assembly in 1993 — vowed to bring more diversity to the profession.

A year later, Garcia said the firm has made several new hires that tell of progress.

“We also have a few candidates we’re interviewing, women of color, who may come to our firm soon,” he said. “So, we’ve been really trying to attract young as well as experienced people of color and women.

“Quite frankly, that sort of diversity you need to do to survive in the long term.”

Garcia’s view is that corporations are looking to partner with lobbying firms that prioritize diversity, which he said is proved by an emphasis on working to attract new clients for his firm within the past year.

Scot Mackey, MBI-GluckShaw’s treasurer, added that all lobbying firms could see the benefits of differing from the “old boys’ network” reputation that has long shadowed these organizations.

By most measures and certainly in terms of compensation — recent media reports listing the highest paid lobbyists in the state didn’t include women in the Top 10 — men still dominate the profession.

Kaufman Zita Group
Patrizia “Trish” Zita is co-founder and principal at the Kaufman Zita Group lobbying firm.

But there are some, one of them being Patrizia “Trish” Zita, co-founder and principal at the Kaufman Zita Group, that have secured for themselves prominent positions on State Street. And, no surprise, they’re aware of their scarce status.

“You look across the spectrum of the larger lobbying firms and there aren’t many named female partners even in this day and age,” Zita said. “There are more than there was 10 or 20 years ago, but certainly not to the level that’s reflective of the population of the state.”

It’s also not reflective of the state Legislature, Zita added. In Gov. Phil Murphy’s cabinet and the Legislature, diversity has become the norm at a much faster rate than the profession has that works alongside those policymakers.

“There are younger folks entering the government side that have much different backgrounds — their culture, their experiences are much more diverse than you would’ve seen in the State House 20 years ago,” Zita said. “I think that contributes to a better discourse in developing policy and laws.”

Zita believes that, at some point, those individuals may themselves take an interest in lobbying — a field that’s often composed of former government officials — and thus contribute to more diversity in the profession.

For now, powerhouse lobbyists who don’t belong to the old boys’ network are working to attract others who also can’t be counted in that grouping.

“At my firm in particular, I think it’s important to have voices from a range of backgrounds coming in and helping our clients understand what the legislative body is doing and why they’re doing what they’re doing,” she said. “Whether it’s diversity in (political) parties, diversity of race or sex — I think it’s all important. 

“At the end of the day, it really provides better representation to our clients if we’re more reflective of the state of New Jersey.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Rudy Garcia of MBI-GluckShaw at: rgarcia@mbi-gs.com or 609-392-3100.

Reach Trish Zita of Kaufman Zita Group at: pzita@kzgrp.com or 609-530-1234.