The Foreign Service Journal, October 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2023 57 Building A Culture of Belonging STATE VP VOICE | BY HUI JUN TINA WONG AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202)-647-8160 Building a culture of belonging is everyone’s responsibility and our institution’s opportunity. This call to actively build belonging is not only embedded in our nation’s history, but also intrinsically tied to our ability to successfully modernize the U.S. Foreign Service. I recently reflected on our country’s history of civil rights and labor rights movements, and am reminded of those vanguard activists, heroes, and collaborators who walked the streets of Washington, D.C. Sixty years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963, America experienced the largest rally of the civil rights movement, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Most of us call it the “March on Washington” and forget “Jobs and Freedom,” but those latter few words remind us that people from all walks of life came together in one intertwined struggle for both civil and labor rights. In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.” This movement fundamentally spoke to each of us about belonging in the workplace, in our schools, and in our nation, creating the momentum that advanced the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. AFSA’s work every day builds on the efforts of those pioneers. As AFSA State VP, I am committed to pursuing and strengthening the culture of belonging. Belonging is about more than just inclusion; it is offering tools, resources, and opportunities to help each member thrive. AFSA is a core part of this journey as we recognize and celebrate each other’s achievements through awards. Building a culture of appreciation and recognition is also the White House’s commitment via the June 21 Executive Order 14035: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workplace, where inclusion is defined as “the recognition, appreciation, and use of the talents and skills of employees of all backgrounds.” I often hear employees say this or that post or office is a “one award per assignment” place, or some managers say that certain work is not significant enough for an award. We have an opportunity to create the counterculture to such talk. If colleagues have done meaningful work and are being overlooked for awards of any category, know that there are many ways we will celebrate your achievements, formally and informally, including within AFSA. Speak up to allies and mentors and nominate those around you. Check out AFSA’s awards categories and deadlines at www.afsa. org/awards-and-honors. Belonging is also about being a proactive bystander who intervenes when there is bullying or harassment in the workplace. AFSA continues to advocate to the highest levels of State Department leadership for the creation and staffing of the department’s anti-harassment and anti-bullying office. This office could address the myriad situations many Foreign Service members find themselves in that might not amount to an equal employment opportunity (EEO) violation but still have a deleterious effect on the well-being of the individuals targeted, as well as on the overall work of belonging in our institution. Some bureaus and DEIA councils have initiated bystander awareness training and discussion. AFSA supports having dedicated resources to help those being targeted by bullies or harassers and to build a culture of accountability to address systemic issues enabling those responsible to continue such behaviors. A culture of belonging asks who is not at the decision-making table and seeks to give them a seat. This is not “tokenism.” As the Office of Diversity and Inclusion released the second annual DEIA baseline report and four barrier analyses of our workforce, we noted the gaps and intend to deepen conversations on hiring, retention, and promotions across the Foreign Service. This data-driven approach is just step one. The next steps involve changing perceptions and building trust with stakeholders across our institution to demonstrate that we are not putting “meritbased” hiring to the wayside in favor of something “less fair,” particularly for mid- and senior-level assignments. We have, indeed, come a long way since the 1963 March on Washington, but we still have a long way to go to ensure our foreign policy decision-making table represents the plurality of thoughts, views, and approaches of the U.S. population. This plurality is our strength. Every time AFSA is afforded a seat at the table with State Department leadership and with powerbrokers across Washington, you have my commitment that I will ask: Who else should be at this table? What ideas could they bring? And what more can I do to help others belong? n Belonging is about more than just inclusion; it is offering tools, resources, and opportunities to help each member thrive.