BY TOM YAZDGERDI
Thanks to those of you who took the time to fill out our recent survey on “Implicit and Explicit Racial Bias in the Foreign Service Workplace.”
The survey results, which we have shared with the Global Talent Management bureau and the Director General’s office, hopefully will help shape new policies and initiatives that can mitigate the microaggressions and other conscious or unconscious manifestations of bias in the Foreign Service.
In the survey, AFSA asked folks what they think is the most important issue that we should address. The top response was to push for “blind” Employee Evaluation Reports—EERs that do not include the rated employee’s name and are gender neutral—so there is no indication of race, gender or ethnicity for promotion panels members to (perhaps unconsciously) ponder.
Implementing Blind EERs. Admittedly, implementing gender-neutral EERs throughout the Foreign Service would be a huge undertaking. If extended to all, the personnel files of FS members would have to be scrubbed for names and gender pronouns.
Some have suggested that the department implement a blind EER pilot program only for new hires going forward.
In any event, it certainly makes sense for AFSA to have this discussion with GTM and others—and we will—especially since so many of our survey respondents have pointed to it.
What Else Could Be Done? The department implemented some welcome, if relatively modest, changes to the EER process in 2015, including eliminating class-wide reviews and focusing on goals, outcomes and results rather than tasks, activities and output.
Given what our members say, however, it may make sense to look at a more indepth revamping of the EER process, with an eye to what has worked in the private sector or elsewhere and what may help drive diversity and inclusion.
AFSA believes the following larger ideas deserve further discussion. In this time of soul-searching on racial and social justice in our country, we should not be afraid to consider new approaches or reconsider old ones.
Narrative versus Quantitative Measurement. As is well known, EERs are based on a narrative from ratee, rater and reviewer. There is currently no quantitative measurement.
While the relative merits of each approach have a long history of debate within the Foreign Service, it may make sense to revisit whether some form of quantitative tool can be of use to often-overworked promotion boards.
Elements of the U.S. military and many firms in the private sector employ some quantitative measure to assess their employees.
Again, it is entirely possible that this approach does not provide a more objective way of promoting State’s FSOs and specialists, but it should be a point of discussion.
360 Feedback. Anyone who has applied for an assignment in the Foreign Service—especially of a management or leadership nature—has gone through the 360 process. You are asked to provide a list of subordinates, peers and supervisors to get a more complete view of your abilities.
Might this feedback also be applied to the EER process, which currently includes only what your boss and boss’s boss think? This 360 feedback, which currently also employs a quantitative measure, could also include feedback on the employee’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Again, this approach is something that has been employed successfully in the private sector and elsewhere.
MSI Gender-Neutral Nomination Forms. As many of you know, AFSA negotiated with the department in 2015 to create a three-year pilot program, extended for a fourth year in 2020, which uses gender-neutral Meritorious Service Increase award nomination forms.
Preliminary data for 2019, as documented in an April Foreign Service Journal article, did not show a statistically significant difference, but rather a slight decrease, in the number of women and minorities getting MSI awards. (See afsa.org/evaluation-reform-statework-progress.)
It may be that this holds true for 2019. But we do not yet have enough data to definitely say that gender-neutral nomination forms don’t help at all in getting us to a more diverse and equitable Foreign Service.
It’s Complicated. Given the idiosyncratic nature of the Foreign Service, any large-scale change in the current process, especially one that takes into account the imperative of diversity and inclusion, needs to be done carefully and with a healthy comment period.
For a provocative article on one former FSO’s opinion of the department’s evaluation process, please see James Thomas Snyder’s article, “The Price of Promotion,” at http://bit.ly/price-of-promotion.
Please let us know what you think about these issues at firstname.lastname@example.org.