Foreign Policy for America Statement on Diversity at the State Department

February 25, 2020

Foreign Policy for America Statement on Diversity at the State Department

Washington, DC – Today GAO released a report identifying a lack of progress made by the State Department in improving the diversity of its workforce. The report notes that while there has been a small increase in the overall proportion of racial or ethnic minorities, from 28% in 2002 to just 32% in 2018, much more progress is needed. .

While State saw a small jump in overall diversity, that’s still below the overall average of the federal workforce. It’s also concerning that that increase is not reflected for all groups. For instance, in 2002 17% of the workforce were African Americans. As of 2018, that number was just 15%. While the percentage of the workforce that identifies as Hispanic technically went up 2%, it is still disturbingly low at just 7%. Women don’t fare too much better. Instead of progressing towards the vision of a more equal workforce, the percentage of women at State fell slightly from 44 percent to 43 percent.

One of the largest issues identified in the report is the inability for diverse groups to reach the highest ranks of the Department, leading to a lack of diversity of voices in leadership. Across the foreign service and civil service, racial and ethnic minorities are generally less likely to be promoted. The same holds true for women in the civil service.

It’s critically important that the State Department use this report and the recommendations offered by GAO and take concrete and immediate action. Because State Department employees act as our liaisons to foreign governments both overseas and here at home, it’s important that the State Department workforce accurately represents the American people. Diversity is a competitive advantage when it comes to national security and foreign policy.

“The GAO report reads like a giant alarm bell, highlighting a significant management issue at State. Secretary Pompeo recently claimed that the Department has made great strides when it comes to diversity, but that’s just not true according to this report,” said Foreign Policy for America Executive Director Andrew Albertson. “Inclusion and diversity isn’t just an equity issue, it’s a strategic one. America’s diversity brings enormous advantages for our ability to develop sound policy and engage with the world. But if women and communities of color run into unseen obstacles to promotions, everyone loses.”

“A diverse diplomatic corps is central to strong American diplomacy,” said Stephenie Foster, FP4A Board Member, Founding Partner at Smash Strategies, and former Senior Advisor and Counselor to the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State. “That means diplomats at every level who bring their skills, talent and unique perspectives to represent the United States. As the GAO report sets out, there has been some progress in advancing diversity in terms of people of color and women over the last several decades, but in some cases, a regression. It’s critical that the State Department take bold steps to recruit and retain diverse and talented staff and ensure that everyone consistently has equal access to opportunity.”

“A strong body of evidence has shown that more diverse organizations are more impactful and innovative,” said Uzra Zeya, President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding. “Declining diversity in the State Department, especially at the senior leadership level, undercuts American national security and the longtime objective, shared by prior Administrations, of a Foreign Service that looks more like America. The dwindling numbers for persons of color in the Senior Foreign Service are at a crisis point and require urgent and innovative action to redress this imbalance. Empty slogans, attention to the entry-level cadre only without accompaniment, and lack of accountability won’t resolve this problem. Thanks to GAO, SFRC and HFAC for their strong oversight on this issue.”

“Agencies like the State Department have a process of promotion and a culture that limits the ability of people with diverse backgrounds from moving up into the more senior levels,” said Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, FP4A Board Member; Founder and President of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation; and former Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs at the Department of State. “That process has not been challenged enough in the past and as a result, we do not see significant or sustained change. There is not enough consciousness raising about this problem. As a result, we are confronted with the numbers that are reported in the GAO report today. ”

“While it’s encouraging to see there have been small improvements in the diversity of the workforce at the State Department, this report proves it clearly hasn’t been enough,” said Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) program at Georgetown University, FP4A advisor, former Ambassador to Bulgaria, and former Director of the Foreign Service Institute. “It’s so important that people of diverse backgrounds are not only hired and brought on board, but also given the chance to grow and succeed at the highest levels. Hopefully this report pushes the State Department to think critically about the potential barriers to diversity that still exist in the Department and how they can solve these problems for our current and future generations of diplomats. The State Department will only be made stronger by a diversity of backgrounds, voices, and experiences.”