Center for Strategic Communication

By Patricia H Kushlis

Shortly before the Easter weekend, the State Department quietly published a partial breakdown of 2015 diversity statistics on its website.  This endeavor was apparently only done at the prodding of a senior Senator.

Except for data covering 2009, 2010 and 2011 Foreign Service promotions published in the State Department Magazine in June 2012, these are the only statistics broken down by ethnicity and gender that State has furnished publicly that we have seen in years.

And here they are – as minimal an amount of information as could be put out there and still satisfy the Congressional request.  But did they and should they be enough to mollify Congress?

2015 State Diversity Statistics 2

The data for 2009, 2010 and 2011, published in the June 2012 State Magazine (pp. 28-29) does provide promotion data for Foreign Service minorities and women for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011.  But this data is not comparable with the 2015 data the department released just before Easter 2016 although both data sets show that white males continue to dominate the senior ranks of the Foreign Service.   The Foreign Service results  for 2009, 2010 and 2011 were summarized in one paragraph in the accompanying text which reads as follows: 

Gender and Ethnicity/Race

“New for each generalist and specialist class, one snapshot depicts the number competed, number promoted and percentage competed by gender, and another shows these factors by ethnicity and race for the 2011, 2010 and 2009 promotion years. The 2011 overall promotion rate for all eligible generalists was 31.8 percent, or 29.1 percent for males and 36.8 percent for females.  Broken down by ethnicity and race, that rate was 31.8 percent for Whites, 27 percent for African-Americans, 29.4 percent for Hispanics, 40.1 percent for Asians and 50 percent for Native Americans in 2011. The 2011 overall promotion rate for all eligible specialists was 17 percent, or 17 per cent for males and 17.2 percent for females. Broken down by ethnicity and race, that rate was 17.7 percent for Whites, 15.6 percent for African-Americans, 14.3 percent for Hispanics, 14.9 percent for Asians and 11.1 percent for Native Americans in 2011.”  

Not a pretty picture.

State should have been required to keep such statistics since at least 1972 if not before when it was legally required to open its ranks to women and minorities in the wake of the enactment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and since the law requires the data to be publicly available, one would have expected to see a far more diverse and equitable workforce at all levels of the Foreign and the Civil Service some fifty years later. Wrong.

Lying with statistics – or at least covering-up the truth: decade after decade

The figures State has just reluctantly released are not comparable with those released in prior years except in the most general terms. Whether this is obfuscation or incompetency, you be the judge.

Here’s the problem:  The 2009-11 statistics reported consist of the actual numbers of employees promoted at each grade level by cone (specialty) whereas the ones for the Foreign Service that most recently appeared on State’s website only depict percentages of the workforce broken down into three major all-encompassing categories (FS Generalist, FS Specialist and Senior Foreign Service). 

In contrast,  the figures reported for 2009-11 are far more specific.  They also demonstrate far more vividly that an unexplained attrition of women and minorities has already set in by the mid-ranks.

Moreover and as statistically important, the data for 2015 includes no actual numbers for comparative purposes whereas the raw data is available for 2009-11. So how can one compare apples and oranges when, for example, the apples have been turned into apple sauce or are still in the deep freeze?  Without such truly comparative figures, how can anyone determine whether State has, in fact, taken the federal government’s diversity mandate seriously? Or is that the idea?

But despite the lack of consistency that would drive a statistician mad, the overall picture remains the same.  The Foreign Service remains a “white men’s club” and the higher the rank, the whiter and more male it is – year after year after year.      

 If anyone has found publicly available data for years not included in this post, please e-mail us at WhirledView the appropriate links (see right hand column for e-mail link) or include the links in a comment. We’d also like to see the published data for State’s Civil Service if it’s available.  

Here’s the never-ending problem

The Department of State, and particularly the U.S. Foreign Service – which represents “the face of America” overseas – beginning at its middle ranks remains predominantly white and male. This despite decades of efforts by Congress and outside groups to foster progress in the hiring, retention, and promotion of women and minorities. 

See, e.g., May 18, 2015 Washington Post article “The Foreign Service is too white. We’d know – we’re top diplomats.”

Although Department officials have repeatedly vowed at Senate confirmation hearings and elsewhere that they would comply with equal opportunity mandates, and address the problems head on, State’s diversity picture remains murky. Why is it that Foreign Service Recruitment is able to recruit entry level classes that are far more representative of the American population as a whole but the further an individual advances up the career ladder the fewer the women and minorities are found.  

The State Department has rarely admitted these failings.  One exception occurred in the November 14, 2014 PBS program To The Contrary, “The Foreign Service In Search of Diversity.”  when then Director General of the Foreign Service, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said that the State Department has failed to create a workforce that reflects “the face of America.”

Although Thomas-Greenfield made this statement in a public forum, it has been the State Department’s longstanding practice to hide its Foreign Service EEO statistics — refusing to be transparent about shortcomings in the way women and minorities are treated in hiring, assignments, and promotions.

State Appears to have Unilaterally Exempted Itself from Reporting Requirements on the Foreign Service

In fact, the annual reports the State Department submits to the EEOC on gender and race and to OPM (under Executive Order 13171) cover only the civil service workforce – and those numbers also show a significant under-representation of women and minorities above the clerical levels.

In its Data, Analysis & Documentation section of its Federal Employment Reports, OPM writes: “The State Department stopped providing data on Foreign Service Personnel in March 2006.”  The questions are manifold: why did State stop providing numbers, and under what authority; why only on foreign service personnel, and why has State not been challenged either by OPM, the EEOC, another agency or the courts about that decision?

For unexplained reasons, the State Department has apparently failed to comply with the reporting requirements imposed on it and other agencies in those two reports for years and has only spottily allowed public access to its Foreign Service promotion statistics. 

Rather than comply with the law, State has kept the diversity statistics hidden behind a firewall when it announces the results of the Foreign Service promotion boards each year.  See WhirledView,More than Undiplomatic Moments:  State’s Diversity Record Remains Behind A Hardline,” February 2016.    

So extreme is this secrecy that litigants in State Department EEO cases are obliged to spend considerable time and money to obtain statistics relevant to their cases through a process known as discovery.  This is not just wrong.  It is illegal. 

On its face, the State Department practice of hiding gender and diversity statistics appears to be a violation of Executive Order 13583 of August 2011, sections 2 and 3 which require federal agencies to record and report the number.  Indeed, if the State Department deems itself exempt from reporting requirements under EO 13583, it is unlikely to  heed the recent words of OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert highlighting unconscious bias as a significant problem in federal hiring and promotion.

Time to Fix it Because it Won’t Fix Itself

It is clear that the Department of State has proven incapable in addressing gender and racial inequality in the Foreign Service.  The problem resides with a sclerotic management cadre that believes that there is nothing wrong with the old way of conducting business.  It’s gotten away with it for years so why should it change now?

As a part of this, State’s offices that are tasked with handling EEO matters have failed to achieve acceptable progress.  In particular, the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) has done little, if anything, to identify barriers to advancement in the system for women and minorities.  It has also failed to adopt best EEO practices.

In 2006 an OIG inspection report found, inter alia, that the S/OCR has been ineffective in ensuring that Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and diversity concerns are properly integrated into the Office of the Secretary’s Bureau Performance Plan (BPP) and the Department’s strategic and performance planning process.

Instead, S/OCR’s outreach unit focuses an inordinate amount of its limited resources on commemorative events rather than devoting its attention to mandated programs for Hispanic, disabled persons and women or to the identification and analysis of EEO barriers.  (OIG Report No. ISP-I-06-41, June 2006 Inspection of the Office of Civil Rights.)

We have been advised that little has changed in the decade since this report was published.

Outside Pressure and Outside Eyes Will be Needed to Fix This

Clearly, it is way past time for change.  Given the decades long inability of State Department officials to manage this issue – and years of inattention by political appointees — outside eyes and outside pressure will be necessary to institute meaningful reforms.

This will require action by both Congress, other parts of the executive branch and a State Department that is willing to change its way of doing business.

Here are Some Suggestions as to What Needs to Happen:

1)  The Department must make current and past Foreign Service gender and race statistics publicly available as required by law.  Problems cannot be identified and fixed without full transparency.

2)  Staff from the EEOC and OPM should be brought in to help S/OCR do its job since it’s demonstrated for years that it cannot do it itself: i.e. identify systemic and policy failings across the agency.  The findings should be compiled into a report and made public.

 3)  A panel should be created to formulate reform measures.  This panel could include the same staff detailed from the EEOC and OPM, plus advisors from the private sector.  Their recommendations and a timetable for their implementation should be published and reported to Congress.

4)  Congress should institute aggressive oversight measures, including regular open hearings and briefings to expedite compliance.

5)  Congress should create a position inside State to track EEO complaints and implementation of reforms.  The person occupying this position should always be selected from outside State and have a dual-reporting chain to the Secretary and to Congress.

6) Exit interviews of women and minorities who are leaving the Department should be mandated and conducted under OPM auspices to ascertain the reasons for early departures.  The results from these interviews need to be included in the development of reform measures recommended in paragraph 3 above.

This is not an exhaustive list, but nothing will change until State is stopped from continuing along the same fruitless path that it has been following for decades.