Reports from the Employee Affinity Groups
The employee affinity groups (EAG) of the foreign affairs agencies are on the front lines of advocating for a more diverse and inclusive Foreign Service, one that, as the Foreign Service Act of 1980 mandates, should look like America. In connection with our September and October focus on addressing and advancing diversity and inclusion, we reached out to the affinity groups. We asked two questions: What are your main challenges? What steps do you recommend to advance diversity and inclusion in your institutions? We heard from 10 of them, and we thank all the affinity groups for their important work.
—Shawn Dorman, Editor in Chief
BY IRVIN “IRV” HICKS JR.
Founded in 1973, the Thursday Luncheon Group (TLG) supports the diversity and inclusion of African American and other underrepresented Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel under the auspices of the Recruitment, Advancement, Retention and Empowerment (RARE) Talent Initiative.
TLG was established by a handful of Foreign Service officers from the U.S. Information Agency, USAID and the State Department who met each Thursday of the month over lunch—hence the name—to discuss issues of concern to Foreign Service and Civil Service employees in each department.
TLG is concerned that the State Department’s lack of progress, and in some areas regression, in terms of advancement and promotion opportunities for African American Foreign and Civil Service staff members may result in an increase in departures from the organization, particularly at the mid- and senior ranks. The January 2020 Government Accountability Office report on the lack of diversity at the State Department points to the existence of historical and systematic racial disparities African American Foreign and Civil Service officers continue to face that undermine the department’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy.
The group is currently working on five priority efforts as part of the RARE Talent Initiative. The first, submitted in collaboration with Blacks in Government–Carl Rowan Chapter and the Pickering and Rangel Fellows Association on July 8, recommends a series of joint D&I reforms to Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and Director General of the Foreign Service Carol Perez.
The second—a plan to hold a Juneteenth commemorative event at Main State—has been implemented. On June 19, the Deputy Secretary, the Director General, regional bureau principal deputy assistant secretaries (PDAS), the presidents of fellow affinity groups and 30 others gathered in State’s Hall of Flags courtyard for a George Floyd memorial that included a moment of reflection lasting 8 minutes and 46 seconds, to mark the time the police officer held Floyd down, resulting in his death.
TLG’s third endeavor is to set up a mock selection board whereby 20 Foreign Service officers have their 2017 through 2020 employee evaluation reports (EERs) assessed by a team of ambassadors (active and retired) to determine their competitiveness for promotion and career trajectory. The purpose of this unprecedented initiative is to provide participants with a candid assessment of their EER narratives and assignment choices so that they have additional insights into their prospects for promotion. Participants also receive coaching and mentoring to empower them as they seek future career opportunities.
Fourth, TLG is establishing the George Floyd Mentorship/Sponsorship program, which will link TLG Foreign and Civil Service members with senior leaders in regional and functional bureaus. This program will focus on helping participants hone their tradecraft and networking skills to bolster their competitiveness and opportunities to advance and secure promotions, particularly at the senior ranks.
Finally, the group is securing 501(c)(3) status to pursue and accept donations to establish TLG chapters nationwide for Foreign Service and Civil Service recruitment of candidates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and members of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs.
These initiatives aim to make real progress toward several goals, namely:
TLG stands ready to assist the department with improving the recruitment, advancement, promotion, retention and empowerment of African American and other underrepresented Foreign and Civil Service officers (from entry to the senior ranks).
We invite new membership to help promote diversity and inclusion reform initiatives throughout the State Department, and to help ensure that the department’s culture and workplace environment enables all Foreign and Civil Service officers to reach their full potential in the service of the United States of America—at home and abroad. To see our agenda and membership structure, please contact us at thursdayluncheongroup.org.
Irvin “Irv” Hicks Jr. recently joined the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs after serving as the senior negotiator for the Political-Military Bureau’s Office of Security Negotiations, and foreign policy adviser (POLAD) for the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa based in Djibouti and as deputy chief of mission in Nouakchott. He has also served in Guinea, Nigeria, Brazil, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Mauritius and Burundi, in addition to Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the State Department, he worked for the African American Institute, Entrepreneurs International and the U.S.–South African Leadership Exchange Program, and was a corporate executive for General Motors’ Africa and Middle East Operations.
BY GREG PARDO, SANDY PEREZ-ROUSSEAU, ANNIKA BETANCOURT, CAMELIA VALLDEJULY AND ROSALINA WACKFORD
The Hispanic Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies (HECFAA) has worked since 1982 to promote a foreign affairs workforce that reflects the rich diversity of the United States, including through strengthening the recruitment, retention and advancement of Hispanics and Latinx at the Department of State. Despite such long-standing efforts, the Government Accountability Office’s January report found that Hispanic representation only grew from 5 percent to 7 percent in 16 years. The GAO also noted the continued lower rates of representation by all racial and ethnic minorities in the senior ranks.
To remedy this, HECFAA has four recommendations: (1) increase resources for recruitment and pipeline programs; (2) ensure the retention and advancement of midlevel officers by expanding career advancement programs; (3) increase mentorship and sponsorship for Hispanic employees to increase the pipeline of employees eligible for senior positions; and (4) ensure transparency and accountability in hiring decisions.
In March the HECFAA Executive Board sent these proposals directly to regional and functional bureau senior leaders interested in recruiting and retaining diverse candidates, including several who admitted they had a long way to go. The board has also served as a resource to some bureaus and posts that previously lacked a diversity council or any diversity or inclusion initiatives. Numerous members working domestically and overseas serve on these councils, in addition to their day jobs, to improve their workplaces for all employees.
Mindful of the power of collaboration, we continue to partner with the department’s other employee affinity groups, the Bureau of Global Talent Management and State’s Office of Civil Rights to collaborate, share best practices and amplify existing efforts to increase inclusion and recruit and retain diverse staff. On March 11, HECFAA and other EAGs met with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and presented several key areas for Congress to assist the department in these efforts.
A strong sense of community is what makes the HECFAA family special. During the chiefs of mission conference in February, we welcomed five Latinx ambassadors for a breakfast with members; and we will host our annual Hispanic Heritage Month event in October, highlighting the important contributions by Hispanics to U.S. diplomacy. HECFAA has also held numerous career advancement sessions, some in partnership with other EAGs, on bidding, professional development opportunities outside the department, and management and supervisory skills in the virtual environment.
To secure the next generation of diverse leaders, we are directly engaging with Latinx youth and pressing the department on increasing institutional outreach to Hispanic-Serving Institutions and communities with majority Hispanic populations. Our members conducted numerous speaking engagements with Latinx high school and college students interested in careers in foreign affairs.
To ease the financial burden for one unpaid State Department intern, we secured a stipend, in collaboration with the American Foreign Service Association, and are working to continue and expand this initiative. Though Hispanics constitute 17 percent of the U.S. labor force and counting, we only represent 7 percent of the State Department. Retention and advancement of current diverse officers provide a visible and attractive example for the new talent the department seeks to recruit. HECFAA remains hard at work in each of these areas.
The authors compose the executive board of HECFAA. President Greg Pardo is a Foreign Service political officer serving in the Office for Israel and Palestinian Affairs. Vice President for Civil Service Sandy Perez-Rousseau is a foreign affairs officer in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Vice President for Foreign Service Annika Betancourt is a political officer currently serving as acting deputy director of the Office of Andean Affairs. Secretary Camelia Valldejuly is a contractor in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Treasurer Rosalina Wackford is a budget analyst in the Bureau of Information Resource Management.
BY HEATHER M. PISHKO
The Disability Action Group (DAG) is an employee affinity group that advocates for the full and equal participation of people with disabilities at the U.S. Department of State. We focus on career enhancement, accommodation and inclusion. Most importantly, we provide a safe space for employees to share their stories, frustrations and fears. Our membership includes people who have lived with disabilities for a long time and others who have recently become disabled, as well as advocates and allies.
This spring DAG spoke with the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee about the GAO’s recent report on diversity and inclusion at State. We took the opportunity to raise the department’s 2018 decision to remove the “gap memo” from the Foreign Service promotion process. Gap memos were used to explain a long-term absence from work, including for medical treatment. Without this memo, promotion panels were left to interpret such absences in any way they wished, which often resulted in speculation about performance issues. After the meeting on Capitol Hill, the department released a cable reinstating the gap memo, specifically mentioning medical issues as a valid reason for filing one. The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is now preparing an amendment to the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (with our input) requiring that the gap memo remain available.
As this year’s bidding season kicks off, DAG has already attended a number of bureau-hosted recruiting events in coordination with other EAGs. Unfortunately, at several of these gatherings, disabilities weren’t even mentioned; or if they were, it was only in the context of family members who may have special needs and require accommodation. Thus, we are appealing to bureau and department leaders to remember: Recruiting employees that represent the diversity of the United States also means recruiting employees with disabilities.
We are aware that many employees are reluctant to disclose their disabilities while job searching for fear of disadvantaging themselves, either because of straight-up bias or because of an office or post’s known preference to avoid making necessary accommodations. However, DAG has heard from several of our members that posts are eager to hire a diverse range of employees and are willing to take every step needed to accommodate all disabilities. Even special incentive posts are workable for some disabilities!
We are hopeful that our outreach efforts will encourage employees to have the confidence to work with posts in exploring options for accommodation at the beginning of the job search process. This is the best way to get a clear picture of what is needed and allows the department the time needed to complete accommodations prior to employee arrival. We also remind colleagues that there are legal recourses that can be sought if they have been discriminated against in the hiring process.
Hearing the voices of employees encouraging State to create and maintain a level playing field for the advancement and retention of all employees will be critical to our success.
One way State can advance diversity and inclusion as it applies to employees with disabilities is to remove all barriers in the workspace before anyone needs to ask. Posts, especially, would be smart to retain at least one accessible residence in their housing pool and proactively work toward ensuring accessible workplaces even in the absence of a current employee need. State has committed itself to hiring more employees with disabilities; thus, the need for accommodation will only increase in the future, and offices and posts that are prepared will benefit by attracting the best and brightest talent.
To support posts overseas in their attempts to become more welcoming to employees with disabilities, DAG has created a Post Representative program. We are currently recruiting individuals serving at posts worldwide to help us form and refine this effort. People interested in this leadership opportunity should reach out to Post Representative Coordinator Elizabeth Daugharty and follow the Post Representative channel on the DAG Microsoft Teams site (information on how to join is below).
This fall, DAG plans to send out a survey asking both Civil Service and Foreign Service employees about their experiences with promotions, because there is no data on this topic. We hope that employees with disabilities will participate so that we can obtain data to launch conversations on the promotion of people with disabilities at the department.
A final note: Membership in DAG is free and simple. You can join by visiting our SharePoint site at https://bit.ly/2D6j8JY. You can also join the DAG Microsoft Team by selecting “join team” at the bottom of the Teams list, and then entering code 0p7xfcw to be automatically added to our team.
Heather M. Pishko, chair of the Disability Action Group, is an office management specialist in the Political Training Division of the Foreign Service Institute’s School for Professional and Area Studies. She joined the Foreign Service in 2006, and has served in Helsinki, Lima, Frankfurt and Belgrade, in addition to domestic assignments in Fort Lauderdale and Washington, D.C.
BY TINA WONG
In a time of destruction, create something.
—Maxine Hong Kingston, Asian American author
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association (AAFAA) has been creating messages of hope, acts of solidarity and a community of resilience. Quarantine has forced us to find new and effective ways to engage the entire department in advancing diversity and inclusion.
In May we shared the Vietnam boat refugee story of Lauren Vuong and the courageous American crew who saved her and many others through a screening of the film “Finding the Virgo,” followed by a Q&A with its directors. We called for action to confront the rise of coronavirus-related stigma and race- and ethnic-based discrimination within and outside the workplace. To raise awareness of and fight against hate, the AAFAA Board and members joined community leaders across the nation in our first-ever poem in honor of Asian American heroes and volunteers in the COVID-19 pandemic response directed by AAFAA Secretary Liz Liu.
We also hosted a senior leaders panel led by Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie Chung, Mumbai Consul General David Ranz and Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Hugo Yon to highlight the incredible contributions of our domestic and overseas colleagues to repatriate Americans. We strengthened allyship with many of our fellow employee affinity groups through professional development sessions on “Engaging with the 7th Floor” and “Mentoring vs. Sponsorship.” We have so much progress to be proud of, but our work is far from done.
As our nation has now celebrated the 244th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, we reflect on one of its principles—equality. We acknowledge that America’s independence offered freedom only to some, and it took a civil war for African Americans to be freed from slavery. Now, more than a century later, waves of courageous protests have set into motion a long-overdue national conversation about equal rights for all. Throughout this summer, AAFAA joined forces with other employee affinity groups (EAGs) in a collaborative and constructive call for equal opportunities for women and people of color across our ranks.
In partnership with the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s former Deputy Assistant Secretary Mirembe Nantongo, the Secretary’s Office of Civil Right Diversity Management and Outreach team, and the South Asian American Employee Association (SAAEA), we began an open conversation to explore ways to advance a more fair, transparent, accountable, diverse and inclusive institutional culture.
In addition to ongoing consultations with AFSA and the Diplomatic Security Diversity and Inclusion teams, the AAFAA Board met with Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Atul Keshap and Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Ervin Massinga to discuss challenges facing our community, including biases and outdated assumptions in the DS security clearance process that often lead to Asian Americans being disproportionately affected by assignment restrictions.
We elevated our voices through dialogue with Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun. Along with leaders of the Hispanic Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies, Arab Americans in Foreign Affairs Agencies, and SAAEA, I represented AAFAA and discussed opportunities for State leadership to improve our institutional culture to advance diversity and inclusion. For the second year, we brought together the voices of EAGs to engage regional bureau leadership to share best practices in Foreign Service bidding and recruitment outcomes.
This year, we launched a new series of EAG conversations with functional bureau leadership on both Foreign Service and Civil Service diversity and inclusion initiatives in hiring and retention. In response to the killing of George Floyd and subsequent nationwide protests, AAFAA hosted listening sessions to advance diversity, inclusion and allyship. One featured San Francisco State University Chair of Asian Studies Russell Jeung, who shared the historical parallels and unique histories between Asian Americans and African Americans and our necessary active role in our nation’s struggle for justice.
AAFAA’s pursuit of equality and racial justice within and outside our institution begins with everyday allies and volunteers. As with the work of diplomacy, the efforts to further diversity and inclusion are long-term, but progress is forged through vigilance and “walking the talk.” Today and every day, AAFAA stands with our colleagues and engages our leaders to take care of our people—to confront systemic racism in our institution and to build up our diplomatic corps to fully represent and embrace the diversity of our nation.
Tina Wong is the 2019-2020 president of the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association and a Foreign Service officer currently serving in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.
BY RONA R. RATHOD
Founded in 2009, the South Asian American Employee Association (SAAEA) is one of the State Department’s officially recognized employee affinity groups (EAGs) and a strategic partner with the department in promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion. One of SAAEA’s primary missions is enhancing the recruitment, retention and promotion of South Asian Americans through direct advocacy to State management, liaising with Congress, fostering professional development and partnering with other affinity groups to amplify our efforts to ensure the department’s workforce reflects the diversity of the United States.
Given recent tragic events in our country, our unified voice with partner affinity groups has never been more important. With a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion, it is necessary to acknowledge that progress still needs to be made at State and that we all have important individual and collective roles in the process. In partnership with the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association, the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s diversity and inclusion team and State’s Office of Civil Rights, SAAEA organized an Open Conversation in June to address how employees can support one another on an individual and organizational level to evolve institutional culture and stand up to bias and discrimination.
The event—which included nearly 200 participants from around the world—offered a space to discuss personal stories, reflections and ideas. Participants discussed fear of interrupting bias because of the potential impact on “corridor reputation,” the importance of empathy and listening, and the role of managers in creating an inclusive work environment. In addition to the Open Conversation, the SAAEA board has been in close contact with regional bureaus and posts around the world to help set priorities for diversity and inclusion (D&I) councils.
Beyond the department, this summer SAAEA engaged with the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations leadership to frame two congressional hearings on diversity at State, noting that an inclusive State Department strengthens foreign policy efforts. Specifically, the hearings sought to examine structural racism within our system, highlighted in a January 2020 Government Accountability Office report indicating that promotion rates for women and minority communities at State are lower than they should be. Remarks from the hearings focused on ensuring that gatekeepers for recruitment are diverse and that both promotion and performance reviews fold in developing diversity among the ranks.
Not surprisingly, our members and the data have echoed the challenges to being promoted to the senior ranks for Asian Americans. In the January GAO report and other State data, information about Americans of South Asian descent is aggregated with data for Asian Americans as a whole, making it difficult to decipher. Nevertheless, that data shows that the number of Asian Americans at the department tends to reflect U.S. demographics at entry- and midlevels but drops precipitously at the Senior Executive Service and Senior Foreign Service levels. Anecdotally, SAAEA understands that the barriers preventing Asian Americans from advancing to senior positions also prevent South Asian Americans from advancing.
This is the crux of SAAEA’s advocacy work. We are probing not only which obstacles thwart the career progression of our constituents, but also how SAAEA—in concert with our partners from other affinity groups—can encourage State’s senior management to break those barriers down, create a more level playing field for minorities and increase retention into and at the leadership levels.
Assignments and promotions at the department are fundamentally linked to one’s network and opportunity. Therefore, it is important to connect more of our members to senior leaders to expand their networks and opportunities. Without senior leaders making more intentional efforts to mentor, sponsor and provide opportunities to people of color, the department is unlikely to see an improvement in representation at the upper levels.
What can we do? SAAEA is in the early stages of developing a pipeline program that would provide sponsorship to employees from the early days of their State career, guiding them toward acquiring the necessary skills, knowledge and networks to reach our senior ranks. Such a sponsorship program would encourage employees to pursue opportunities and assignments that will prepare them to be positive leaders and effective policymakers. It would channel people toward applying for positions with more responsibility that they might not otherwise consider, thus creating a cadre ready to excel in the Senior Foreign Service.
Of course, SAAEA requires the buy-in of State’s leadership to bring this to fruition. Hearing the voices of employees encouraging State to create and maintain a level playing field for the advancement and retention of all employees will be critical to our success. As an affinity group, we advocate for institutional change and represent our members’ views directly to senior leaders. SAAEA looks forward to continuing advocacy for the betterment of not just our members, but the State Department as a whole. SAAEA is open to all department employees with an affinity for South Asia, diversity and inclusion. Interested colleagues can email SAAEA@state.gov.
Rona R. Rathod joined the Foreign Service in 2004 and is currently serving overseas at the U.S. consulate general in Mumbai. Before that, she served as a special adviser in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation. Other Washington, D.C., assignments include a year in the Bureau of International Security, a detail assignment to the office of Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and assignments to the Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and International Scientific Affairs, and the Operations Center. Other overseas postings include Lome, New Delhi, Kabul and Vilnius.
BY NADIA FARRA AND MAHMOUD EL-HAMALAWY
The Arab-Americans in Foreign Affairs Agencies (AAIFAA) employee affinity group is playing a concerted and strategic role in coordination with other employee groups to champion diversity and inclusion in the State Department. As Arab Americans reflect on movements across the country, such as Black Lives Matter, that seek to raise awareness, self-reflection and lasting actions against racism and discriminatory practices, members of the community are simultaneously reflecting on their own identity and how they can contribute their experiences and support to the nationwide discussion.
As the name suggests, AAIFAA’s membership goes beyond the State Department and includes foreign affairs and development professionals at the U.S. Agency for International Development and at the Departments of Homeland Security, Treasury and Commerce, among others. Many of our members have lineage from across the Arab world; others are interested in the region, Arabic language and culture. This combination strengthens the community’s collective experience and reach.
Many Americans of Arab or Middle Eastern heritage face some of the same biases that other communities experience, but not all. This is why AAIFAA works in coordination with other employee groups to amplify messages about the national security importance of diversity and inclusion and having a federal foreign affairs workforce that reflects the American people. Arab Americans also have a unique challenge: Because individuals with Middle Eastern or North African ancestry are officially categorized as Caucasian or “white” (a point of contention for many in the Arab American community), there is no disaggregation of data that speaks to the community’s representation or achievements.
AAIFAA advocates on behalf of the Arab American community in the federal government by partnering with other employee groups and identifying opportunities for members to ensure those with an “Arab” or “Middle Eastern” background are represented and at the table. The group is also keenly aware that many of its members do not face the type of systemic racism that many of our Black colleagues face both inside and outside the office, including in foreign posts.
Foreign affairs agencies must recognize that America’s greatest strength is our diversity and create a cadre of foreign affairs professionals truly representative of our country.
For our most recent initiative, AAIFAA worked with fellow employee groups to address toxic behaviors and improve representation at the Department of State by creating a diversity and inclusion checklist that has been shared with senior leadership, beginning with the regional bureaus. The checklist is a compilation of simple but effective steps each principal deputy assistant secretary can utilize to address representation issues and unconscious bias, and hold accountable those who demonstrate harmful behavior. Using the checklist effectively will also help promote better discussion and problem-solving, as well as boost morale, and therefore support retention.
Standing together with the other employee groups and speaking with one voice gives tremendous weight to our goals of encouraging diversity and holding harmful individuals accountable. AAIFAA has raised its organizational profile and collaborative spirit among other employee groups, and we look forward to continued efforts and coordination for future campaigns and initiatives.
We realize that more needs to be done—and now is the time to do it. Staying active as an employee group despite the restrictions of COVID-19 and social distancing, the organization is finding creative ways to continue engaging and advocating for its membership. By canceling social events where AAIFAA once promoted professional networking and showcased exhibits, music, cuisine and stories, we are putting more focus on the work we can do to advance and promote Arab American representation at all levels of management and policy in the federal interagency community.
To do that, AAIFAA is committed to coordinating efforts, initiatives and meeting notes, and to working alongside colleagues in other affinity groups and allies in leadership roles to advance our collective cause together. Through collaboration, AAIFAA and other employee groups are making a positive difference for the U.S. Department of State and our national security.
To learn more about AAIFAA, write to AAIFAABoardMembers@state.gov.
Nadia Farra, chair of Arab-Americans in Foreign Affairs Agencies (AAIFAA), is the senior Syria desk officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department. She joined the Civil Service in 2011 as a Presidential Management Fellow at USAID. Mahmoud El-Hamalawy, communications officer for AAIFAA, is an outreach officer in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs at the State Department. He worked as a producer for Al Jazeera TV’s Washington bureau before joining State in 2018.
BY THE GRACE STEERING COMMITTEE
Diversity and inclusion are core tenets of the Christian faith, and GRACE, as the State Department’s first employee affinity group based on religion, seeks to advance these principles in the department and beyond. GRACE’s mission is to promote a culture at State that embraces the ability of employees to manifest religious belief in the workplace.
It is commonly thought that one’s religious background and beliefs should be a private part of one’s identity that is not discussed. GRACE’s perspective, however, is that one’s religion is key to our individual and cultural identity and should not have to be hidden or suppressed, including in the workplace. One’s faith background can play a significant, positive role in one’s work, as evidenced by the lives of leaders who have recently passed away, including John Hume, C.T. Vivian and John Lewis. Beyond religious freedom, GRACE also seeks to contribute to the broader conversations and policy changes that help ensure improved diversity and inclusion in the department.
Religious liberty is a foundational principle in the Constitution and other sources of law. Accordingly, in 1997 the Clinton administration released guidelines affirming the right of religious expression in the federal workplace and prohibiting discrimination based on one’s religious (or nonreligious) beliefs. More recently, the Trump administration has reinforced these guidelines and emphasized their importance. Nearly a quarter century since the Clinton guidance was issued, GRACE members and adherents of other faiths still have concerns about expressing their faith or exercising religious practices in the workplace.
As a multicultural organization, GRACE is also aware of—and takes seriously—the unique challenges facing our members of color at State. GRACE welcomes open and honest discussions that provide the foundation for the mutual understanding necessary to advance positive change. Racism of any kind runs contrary to the core Christian tenet that all people are made in the image of God and are therefore valued, unique and to be celebrated. It is out of our love and reverence for God that we are called to love others.
The Christian church is diverse in itself, encompassing people of all backgrounds who help each other grow in their faith and understanding. We are grateful for the support of State’s Office of Civil Rights and the affinity group community in combating all forms of racism at the department, and we look forward to working together in this effort.
GRACE consistently engages with senior leadership, hosts discussions among department employees and invites outside speakers to help address the challenges of diversity and inclusion. At GRACE, we seek to partner with the department and the church to grow in this area, and we welcome our colleagues of all religious and nonreligious backgrounds to engage with us as we progress on this journey together.
If you’d like to learn more about GRACE and be part of our ongoing conversation, please email the Steering Committee at GRACE-SteeringCommittee@state.gov.
The GRACE Steering Committee is led by President Al Murphy and Vice Presidents Al Gombis and Logan Krusac. Al Murphy is a foreign affairs officer in the Office of Policy, Planning and Resources for the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Al Gombis is an FSO and currently director of the Office of Global Criminal Justice. Logan Krusac is an FSO and currently special assistant in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
BY STEVEN ALAN HONLEY
Ever since its March 8, 1992, founding as Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, glifaa has been a strong advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT+) employees at State and other foreign affairs agencies. (The plus at the end of the abbreviation encompasses various other subsets of the community: asexual, intersex, queer and questioning.)
Overall, gains achieved over the previous quarter century of advocacy, particularly in terms of protection from discrimination, remain largely intact today at the State Department. Fortifying that trend, in June the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, declaring that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects all employees against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Glifaa President Jeff Anderson hails the organization’s progress, but notes: “There’s much still more to be done for LGBT+ equality.” For example, LGBT+ employees still can’t serve in many countries around the world with diplomatic privileges and immunities for their same-sex spouses or partners. As Anderson points out, “This closes the door on a number of career opportunities, which can, in turn, have a direct effect on promotions and career trajectories.” In addition, transgender employees and their family members face a complex set of regulations, policies and procedures that affect everything from medical and security clearances to passports.
Overseas, glifaa’s post representatives spearhead a small grants program that directs funding to assist local organizations in foreign countries on specific projects. For example, at the initiative of Mission China, glifaa donated $500 to a community organization in Wuhan to purchase masks to use when delivering medication to HIV-positive patients.
In addition, glifaa recently partnered with the National Museum for American Diplomacy to tell the organization’s story in a digital exhibit: “Serving with Pride: The History of LGBT+ Pride in Foreign Affairs Agencies.”
Asked about glifaa access to State Department management, Anderson says: “We have a very productive relationship with many senior department leaders, and continue our work at the highest levels to advance the issues important to our 1,000-person network.” The group is actively working with State’s leadership to develop more equitable policies and guidelines on issues affecting family members.
Mindful that the number of countries that accredit same-sex spouses has plateaued, glifaa also uses its meetings with State officials to urge them to make foreign accreditation of spouses of American LGBT+ employees a priority. It emphasizes that posts shouldn’t wait until someone with a same-sex spouse has been assigned to press the issue with host governments. Similarly, State should use its full range of tools, including reciprocity, to encourage countries to accredit our family members.
Anderson notes that Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun spoke recently at a virtual event organized by glifaa and the Atlantic Council on U.S. government engagement on LGBT+ issues globally. Deputy Secretary Biegun’s predecessor, Ambassador John J. Sullivan, has been a great advocate for LGBT+ issues and continues in this role now as ambassador to Moscow. He spoke at various Pride Month events and shared his experience working with the LGBT+ community during a “Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to Me” State Department event this year. Reach glifaa at email@example.com.
Steven Alan Honley, a State Department FSO from 1985 to 1997, and editor in chief of The Foreign Service Journal 2001 to 2014, is a regular contributor to the Journal. He is a founding member of glifaa and the group’s third president (1994-1995).
BY DANIELLE CARNES
Gender and Sexual Minorities at USAID (GSM@AID) unites professionals with a diverse range of backgrounds and experience around a central mission: to improve the recruitment, retention and promotion of gender and sexual minorities at USAID, with a special emphasis on the needs of our local hire employees. While GSM@AID focuses entirely on LGBTI+ employees at USAID, we coordinate closely with glifaa on issues that affect our overlapping constituencies across the foreign affairs agencies.
Although GSM@AID is one of the world’s largest international development agencies, many of our employees live and work in cultural contexts where LGBTI+ rights are not protected. One of GSM@AID’s greatest challenges is ensuring that, no matter what country they work in, the USAID work environment permits our LGBTI+ colleagues to bring their whole self to work every day.
This is not always easy. According to a November 2019 report from F&M Global Barometer of Gay Rights at Franklin and Marshall College (fandmglobalbarometers.org), 69 percent of countries have a “failing” score on a gay rights index, and 76 percent have a failing score for trans rights. These indices represent a whole-of-being measure of discrimination and civil protections, including legal discrimination, de facto discrimination, LGBTI+ rights advocacy, socioeconomic outcomes for LGBTI+ people and societal persecution.
With our offices in locations with varying levels of discrimination, danger and criminalization, it is essential that our employees everywhere have meaningful, ongoing support. This, however, can look vastly different depending on the context, which points to another challenge we face in advancing acceptance and inclusion for LGBTI+ people.
It is challenging to support LGBTI+ rights when the country you live in has criminalized homosexual acts. It is hard to be fully present in the office when the country you live in (whether the United States or overseas) and perhaps even your colleagues refuse to recognize your true gender and name. So it is critical that the agency and its employees actively ensure that all our staff are able to participate as full members of the USAID workforce, and that no one faces discrimination on account of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
To that end, GSM@AID is doing the following:
USAID’s values statement reads, in part: “We recognize and acknowledge the strength that comes from diversity.” It states that we “advance equality, foster equal opportunity and address inequality within our Agency and in our work.” These values are impossible to realize without conscious and deliberate efforts to create a space where everyone’s contribution is valued. The members of GSM@AID are working hard to help the agency live our values in everything we do and harness the diverse talent we need to succeed in our mission. GSM@AID can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Danielle Carnes is the chair of the employee resource group Gender and Sexual Minorities at USAID (GSM@AID). She entered the Civil Service as a Presidential Management Fellow in 2016, and now serves as a program officer in the Office of Human Capital and Talent Management. As founder and chair of GSM@AID, she helps USAID achieve its development objectives by leading efforts to create safe and inclusive work environments for marginalized and underrepresented staff. She received the 2017 glifaa Employee of the Year Award for her contributions to transgender equality at USAID.
BY CHRISTINA TILGHMAN
The Pickering and Rangel Fellows Association (PRFA) advocates on behalf of members to senior leadership on diversity and inclusion issues, and creates opportunities to support retention, recruitment and morale-boosting efforts through networking, career development and community service activities. Established in 2010, PRFA has more than 700 members serving with distinction at U.S. missions around the world.
Many PRFA members share experiences of enduring toxic behaviors in the workplace such as microaggressions and being second-guessed, undermined, harassed, and deemed unqualified, signaling a widespread problem of discriminatory behaviors and perceptions within the State Department. There is also persistent bias and a misunderstanding of the fellowship program itself. A common, yet false, impression of these programs is they are an easy way into the Foreign Service for minority candidates. However, becoming a Pickering or Rangel Fellow is a highly competitive process, and the fellows must fulfill all requirements, including the written and oral examinations, to officially join the Foreign Service.
Such misperceptions hinder prospects for officers of color to ascend to the senior-most ranks in the Foreign Service. PRFA continues to regularly engage senior department leaders to develop accountability measures, advocate for an equitable assignments process to ensure selected candidates reflect our diverse and exceptionally talented workforce, and work with key parts of our institution to pilot innovative approaches to change how senior leaders tackle these issues at missions overseas.
Foreign affairs agencies must recognize that America’s greatest strength is our diversity and create a cadre of foreign affairs professionals truly representative of our country. This also requires agencies to actively address systemic disparities by ensuring diversity and inclusion efforts are well resourced, allocating ample staff and a sizeable operational budget. Most importantly, any entity within a foreign affairs agency explicitly responsible for diversity and inclusion issues should possess the full authority to implement such initiatives in order to effectively shift organizational culture and foster an inclusive, diverse workforce. PRFA can be reached at PRFABoard@state.gov.
Christina Tilghman is president of the Pickering and Rangel Fellows Association. She joined the Foreign Service in 2010 and has served in Canada and South Africa, as well as in several assignments in Washington, D.C.