Diversity Perspectives

Letter from the Editor


A year ago, the FSJ Editorial Board decided to devote the 2021 July-August edition to “a progress report” on diversity and inclusion in the Foreign Service. We hoped it might feature dramatic change, the fruit of a year of intense, unprecedented attention to the problems of racism, diversity, inclusion and equity.

As we got closer to putting this edition together, however, it became clear that it’s too early for the ribbon-cutting ceremony: We don’t yet have a Foreign Service that is truly “representative of the American people,” as mandated by the 1946 (and 1980) Foreign Service Act. But things are happening.

So we opted to keep a focus on the process of change—fraught and messy as it is—as we have been doing for the past year, checking in on the direction being taken, assessing the realities and seeking new data and more views, and endeavoring to hold the institutions and our own community accountable for real change. (As we went to press, the September 2020 FSJ received a Gold EXCEL Award from Association Media & Publishing.)

The good news is that real conversations are continuing, in particular through new vehicles such as the diversity councils set up in bureaus and at posts. Several serious studies have been undertaken by groups both inside and outside the Service leading to reports and recommendations that can help show the way (Truman Center, Belfer Center, Council on Foreign Relations).

State has created a top-level chief diversity and inclusion officer position and appointed Ambassador (ret.) Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley as CDIO, giving the position real authority.

Recommendations from the affinity groups—and AFSA—are being sought and welcomed by the administration. Congress is pushing new legislation to advance diversity.

There is wide agreement that a cultural shift is required, and that fundamental change is no simple task. There’s a chance that this is a real inflection point.

We offer this month’s collection of perspectives to help keep the subject front and center, opening with a primer on diversity in the Foreign Service from author and former FSO Harry W. Kopp. For anyone considering today’s reckoning with gender, ethnic and racial diversity in the Service, this is a good place to start.

FSO Kathryn Drenning, a member of the board of Executive Women @ State, writes on what it will take for “Achieving Parity for Women in the Foreign Service.”

In “Asian Americans Can No Longer Be Silent, and Neither Should You,” Kim Bissonnette shares her family’s Cambodian-American journey.

Tianna Spears—the consular fellow whose viral blog post about harassment she experienced by CBP officials at the U.S.-Mexico border sparked difficult conversations that continue a year later—shares her thoughts today in “The Power of Vulnerability.”

FSO Michael Honigstein urges colleagues to face and then work to overcome “Three Myths That Sustain Structural Racism at State.” In “Rooting Out Microaggressions,” FSO Charles Morrill takes a close look at the various forms of microaggressions and how they create a toxic work environment, offering suggestions on how to combat the problem.

FSO Maryum Saifee brings us a close-up of the tools and services the Transition Center provides and explains how they can help build a more agile and inclusive workforce.

Elsewhere, in a timely follow-on to the May FSJ article on expanding professional education (Tom Pickering, David Miller and Rand Beers), this month’s feature from FSO Joel Ehrendreich offers a specific plan to get there: “State U—A Proposal for Professional Diplomatic Education and Outreach to America.”

In the Speaking Out, two diplomats—one German and one American—offer suggestions for Foreign Service reform in both countries. And in Reflections, we travel back to southern Arabia circa 1966 with FS spouse Kate Carr.

AFSA President Eric Rubin reviews the 2019-2021 Governing Board term in his column, and AFSA News includes the complete term report. The 2021-2023 Governing Board takes office July 15.

After a tough couple years, here’s hoping the next two will see improvements on many fronts. As always, we want to hear from you. Write us at journal@afsa.org.

Shawn Dorman is the editor of The Foreign Service Journal.