Diversity and Inclusion: The Time to Act Is Now

State VP Voice


The murder of George Floyd and the many other disturbing examples of police violence against people of color have awakened a renewed desire in our country to address the continuing legacy of racial and social injustice.

This tragic event has also provided new impetus for looking at the issues of racial bias, diversity and inclusion in the department with an eye toward concrete action. The result we all want is a department that truly reflects the rich diversity of America, where no one feels left out or less than valued.

Possible Ideas…

AFSA is closely following the ideas that people are bringing forward on what can be done to promote diversity at State.

Recent congressional testimony by two former ambassadors, as well as initiatives from the employee affinity groups Blacks in Government, Pickering and Rangel Fellows Association, and Thursday Lunch Group have set forth several proposals worthy of discussion and consideration.

• Mandate the inclusion of, or at least more thoroughly utilize, the representatives of the 14 employee affinity groups (EAGs) in formulating promotion precepts, and use these groups as a sounding board for future initiatives on diversity and inclusion of minorities and women, particularly in and into the senior ranks.

• Include more minorities on the assessment boards and promotion panels.

• Add “advancing diversity inclusion” to the highest level of core competencies for supervising officers, and make it an absolute requirement for promotion (at FS-2 and above).

• Require the department to ensure accurate understanding of how all the fellowships work, especially Pickering and Rangel Fellowships, which should improve the standing of the fellows in the department.

• Formalize a leadership program for FS-3 employees of color, administered by FSI, to provide career guidance and hone their managerial and supervisory skills. Doing so might create a stronger pipeline of officers who are prepared for future chief of mission and DCM positions.

… That Need Careful Vetting

AFSA is working with the Bureau of Global Talent Management, EAGs, Congress and other stakeholders to make sure these and other ideas are carefully vetted, including for any negative unintended consequences.

One idea that has gained some traction in Congress is to establish a mid-level entry program at the FS-3 to FS-1 levels for members of minority communities. While the good intention is to rectify the clear retention problems that the department has with African-American FSOs, in particular, having that new intake would likely create even more of a bulge at the mid-level than is currently the case.

What might make more sense is to expand the Pickering and Rangel Fellows programs, which have proven themselves over the course of time.

Another way to attract underrepresented communities to the Foreign Service might be to have paid summer internships generally for college and graduate students at our embassies abroad and at Main State. Right now, these internships are unpaid and, as such, tend to cater to students who do not have to earn money during the summer.

AFSA Initiatives

Aside from assessing the creative ideas that are out there at present, AFSA has taken the following initiatives:

Racial bias survey. In mid-July we sent out a survey to all our members asking them to let us know if they had been the subject of racial (or other) discrimination. The Journal will report on the survey in October.

Gender and Race/Ethnicity-Neutral EERs. For some time, AFSA has argued in favor of Employee Evaluation Reports that are not identifiable by name or gender to lessen the chance for unintended bias. We know that this can work because the pilot MSI awards process now uses this format.

Core Precepts and Procedural Precepts. The Core Precepts are reviewed every three years and are familiar to those who have gone through the employee evaluation review (EER) process. The Procedural Precepts govern the work of the Foreign Service selection boards and are negotiated annually with AFSA. We will push for strong diversity and inclusion indicators in both precepts.

Revamping the exit interview process. For too long the exit interview was not taken seriously—either by the department or by employees—and the questions themselves were too broad to yield any significant data.

At AFSA’s urging, the department revamped the process in April to include more specific questions that could shed light on, for example, why mid-level FSOs of color appear to be leaving the Foreign Service (see 20 STATE 40554).

We expect to see the first results of this department-level data quarterly beginning in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Supporting Pickering and Rangel Fellows. We have advocated greater flexibility on the part of the department to provide for the needs of Pickering and Rangel Fellows.

As the main contributor to diversity in the department, these programs are too important to be potentially derailed by these unprecedented times.

Please let us know at member@afsa.org what you think should be done to promote diversity and inclusion in our Service.

Tom Yazdgerdi is the Department of State vice president of the American Foreign Service Association.