First-Ever White House Chief Diversity Officer Steps Down

First-Ever White House Chief Diversity Officer Steps Down

The first-ever Special Assistant to the President and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for the White House is leaving his post, as the Administration touts the most diverse White House staff in U.S. History.

Michael Leach, appointed the first-ever Special Assistant to the President and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for the White House, is leaving his post. Leach is credited with pioneering efforts that built and sustained the most diverse White House staff in U.S. History. 

“President Biden committed to building a federal government that looks like America and he has kept that promise with the help of leaders like Michael Leach,” Stephen Benjamin, Senior Advisor to the President and Director of the Office of Public Engagement, told BLACK ENTERPRISE. “As the first ever White House Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Michael has set the bar high as an exemplary public servant and he will be missed.”

Leach led staff recruitment and diversity efforts on President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, then took on the inaugural White House position in 2020. He previously spent a decade at NFL headquarters in a host of roles, including managing labor relations and operations, serving in leadership on the NFL Diversity Council, and serving as the administrative lead for the NFL Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship Program. He was also the assistant to the Chicago Bears’ head coach. Most recently, Leach was named to the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. Power 50 Under 40 List.

Serving as the White House’s first-ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer has been the honor of a lifetime,” Leach wrote in a statement to BE. “I remain inspired by the people I had the privilege of serving alongside, and I am encouraged by the progress we have made together. It has been a journey marked by faith, resilience, shared commitment, and a profound belief in the price and promise of diversity, equity, inclusion & accessibility (DEIA). This role has taught me never to stop learning because life never stops teaching.”

Leach’s work to boost diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts comes at a pivotal time where such efforts have continually come under attack at federal and local levels. The Supreme Court overturned the use of affirmative action in university admissions last summer. Just yesterday, Florida’s Board of Governors voted to ban using state or federal dollars for diversity programs at state universities.

Efforts to thwart DEI programs continue to creep into academia. This week, one of Cornell University’s most prominent donors called on the school’s president to resign, saying he would no longer donate to the institution if they continue to implement DEI initiatives. And earlier this month, Dr. Claudine Gay resigned from her position as Harvard’s first Black president, citing “personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus,” in a move The Harvard Crimson noted was forced by a select group that included a Republican congresswoman, a billionaire hedge fund manager, and conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo. Upon Dr. Gay’s resignation, Rufo wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “Today, we celebrate victory. Tomorrow, we get back to the fight. We must not stop until we have abolished DEI ideology from every institution in America.”

A Diverse Workforce that Reflects Society

During Leach’s tenure in the first year of the Biden-Harris Administration, President Biden signed Executive Order 14035 to advance DEIA in the federal government, and released the Government-Wide Strategic Plan to Advance DEIA in the Federal Workforce. During the second year of the Administration, inaugural DEIA-specific roles were created, including hiring the first-ever full-time American Sign Language interpreters. Leach said hiring-manager trainings were regularly implemented to help reduce implicit bias in interviewing. Additionally, the White House launched the first paid White House Internship Program, considered a win for first-generation college students as well as those from communities of color and low-income backgrounds.

Reports show the White House has consistently grown more diverse in staff with 44% of staff identifying as racially and/or ethnically diverse in 2021 and 2022. As of last year, the White House had the most diverse staff in history with roughly half of all staff identifying as racially and/or ethnically diverse.

Dr. Sesha Joi Moon, Chief Diversity Officer in the U.S. House of Representatives, has been Leach’s “counterpart, colleague, and comrade” for the past two years. Although her role is non-partisan and non-legislative in scope, the two have been able to find “synergetic points across branches to help grow a qualified and representative federal workforce that reflects the full tapestry of all segments of society,” Dr. Moon told BE.

“Beyond his leadership in helping to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, also known as DEIA, for the Biden-Harris Administration, he has exampled the benefits of the acronym on behalf of the American people — which is belonging,” Dr. Moon said. “Beyond his title and tailored suits, he’s a good person who cares about people — and he will be sorely missed from the White House to Capitol Hill.”

Leach has not yet announced his next move, but said he looks forward to “exploring new opportunities for making a broader impact by contributing to the enrichment of lives across the world.”