The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2021

44 JULY-AUGUST 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Maryum Saifee is a career Foreign Service officer. Prior to joining the Foreign Service more than a decade ago, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan. Recently, she served as a task lead on the Truman Center report, “Transforming the State Department: Pathways to a More Just, Equitable, and Innovative Institution.” The views in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of the State Department or U.S. government. HowtheTransition CenterExpands Inclusion Described as a “hidden gem” by this FSO, FSI’s Transition Center has a range of tools and services that are vital in helping build a more agile, inclusive Department of State. BY MARYUM SA I F EE W hen I got my invitation letter to join the Foreign Service just over a decade ago, New York was collapsing into the abyss of a financial crisis and my transition to Washington was abrupt. I arrived feeling overwhelmed and out of place. My A-100 orientation class was large and relatively diverse. But when I look at who in my cohort has decided to leave the Foreign Service, I see it has been mostly women and people of color. The attrition in my class is emblematic of a larger picture portrayed in a recent Govern- ment Accountability Office report citing deep-rooted racial dis- parities that go back decades. For example, the number of Black women in the Foreign Service was at 2 percent in 2002. Fifteen years later, in 2017, the number had only risen to 3 percent. I would have become another data point in the GAO’s map- ping of our diversity exodus had it not been for a more flexible leave without pay (LWOP) policy that gave breathing space to State Department employees needing to push pause for a variety of life reasons. My previous overseas tours—Baghdad, Erbil, Lahore and Cairo, amid two evacuations—had taken a toll. The Foreign Service is an exhilarating career, but transitions become rockier as we rise up the ranks. And for women of color like me, there is the added complexity of navigating systemic racism and sexism, particularly when posted overseas where our credibility and competency are routinely questioned because we don’t look like “American” diplomats (read: white and male). As Secretary Antony Blinken frames diversity as a national security imperative and a precondition to solving the complex challenges of the 21st century, the Foreign Service Institute’s Transition Center could be the department’s best kept secret in building this more agile and inclusive workforce. When I left a two-year LWOP to join the Transition Center’s team, I didn’t know very much about it. Like many Foreign Service officers, I knew FSI/TC offered a retirement course. And I vaguely remembered a resource center at FSI with blue boxes full of content to prepare for overseas assignments—but that was it. Cultivating Life Skills as a Tool for Retention Since joining FSI/TC earlier this year, I’ve discovered that the center is a hidden gem that hosts a broad range of programming that is fundamental to answering the Secretary’s call for retain- ing a diverse workforce. The Training Division’s Life Skills Unit equips the foreign affairs community with literacy on critical life skills ranging from personal finances and tax considerations in a foreign affairs context to employment opportunities for eligible family members, regulations and allowances when it comes to eldercare and parental leave, and so much more. FSI/TC and the courses it offers are a reminder that Foreign Service and Civil Service professionals are more than worker bees churning policy, issuing visas or running operations at post: They FOCUS PERSPECTIVES ON DIVERSITY & INCLUSION