The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2024 7 Promoting All Aspects of Diversity BY TOM YAZDGERDI Tom Yazdgerdi is the president of the American Foreign Service Association. PRESIDENT’S VIEWS Having a diverse workforce is a good thing in and of itself and leads to better decision- making and outcomes based on a variety of viewpoints. When discussing DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility), people generally think of racial, ethnic, and gender balance and opportunity. Inclusive of those efforts is the need to ensure that the DNA of our diverse workforce is made up of a broad representation of socioeconomic status, educational background, and work and life experience, among other factors. All the foreign affairs agencies are grappling with how best to promote DEIA and ensure all employees are engaged in this. At State, we have gone through the first EER cycle (2023-2024) that includes DEIA as one of the five stand-alone core precepts essential to promotion and a successful Foreign Service career. AFSA is working with State to assess how this effort has gone and what lessons can be learned. USAID will include a similar DEIA precept in their 2024-2025 assessment process. At a January meeting with AFSA, USAID Administrator Samantha Power and her staff expressed interest in learning from State’s experience. Other department initiatives that have a DEIA angle include rejiggering the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). While the FSOT is still an important factor in whether an applicant moves forward in the intake process, since June 2022 the score (no longer pass/fail) is considered along with other application elements. To me, this change makes sense. It reflects the general move in our country away from standardized tests as the primary measure of an individual’s potential success at college or in other endeavors. Aren’t academic record, achievements in the workplace, and motivation more important indicators? The department is also aiming to make the Foreign Service Officer Assessment (FSOA)—the last step in the selection process—virtual. To many, this sounds sacrilegious. How can you possibly size up someone’s ability to succeed in the Foreign Service by way of a Zoom call? The department appears confident that it can and recently gave AFSA a preliminary demonstration of how a virtual FSOA would be conducted. It was impressive and convincing, and I am hopeful the initiative will work out and be fruitful. It could help level the playing field, allowing those to participate who could not otherwise take time off from work, find childcare or eldercare, or afford travel to and hotel costs in Washington, D.C.—currently the only place the FSOA is offered. Last December my family hosted a recent alum of my graduate school, who had to fly from overseas to Washington, on their own dime, to take the FSOA—and struggled to meet the cost. That just does not seem right to me. Coupled with the recent change to make all State Department internships paid, making the FSOA virtual will open up the possibility of a Foreign Service career for many from disadvantaged backgrounds. AFSA is doing its part to attract talent to the Foreign Service from schools that are not the traditional “feeder” schools. As I write this column in late January, I am preparing to travel to Florida to meet with our great retiree association in Sarasota but will also travel to Miami, Boca Raton, and Jupiter to speak to students and faculty at Miami Dade College (MDC) and Florida Atlantic University (FAU). MDC, with the largest undergraduate enrollment of any college or university in the country, can be a rich source of talent for the Foreign Service and help the department and other foreign affairs agencies better reflect the face of America abroad and at home. AFSA is also collaborating with FirstGens@state, a new employee organization at State that supports, develops, and advocates for first- generation professionals, first-generation college graduates, and individuals otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty, discrimination, inequity, or inequality. This new group can help retain talent from those backgrounds. None of the above initiatives in any way means lowering standards for entry to the FS. Especially in this centennial year, AFSA will continue to support a rigorous intake process that reflects the Service’s excellence and esprit de corps. Please let me know what you think at or n