Center for Strategic Communication

By Patricia H Kushlis

Nearly three years ago – July 22, 2011 to be exact – I described my dismay at the continuing lack of women in the senior career ranks of the State Department in a WV post entitled “Still an Man’s World:  the State Department’s Bohemian Grove.”

I’m checking in again in light of an announcement from Apple six months ago that it plans to increase the number of women and minorities on its board of directors. Reports indicated at the time that the policy change was due to increased pressure from two major Apple shareholders: Trillium Asset Management and the Sustainability Group which “expressed disappointment that Apple has only one woman on its eight-member board and only one woman on its executive team reporting to Chief Executive Tim Cook.” 

It’s not just women and minorities who are left off boards of directors of US tech companies, they’re too often also absent from the workroom floor because, well, they’re just not trained as engineers or in software development.  Or, could it be that this is one of the last bastions of the generations past “good ole’ boys clubs that women have had – for one reason or another – problems breaking into?” 

In one sense the US government, including the Foreign Service, has done far better in the overall hiring of women and minorities over the years than corporate America.  The US government’s own changes began in 1967 with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to add women to his landmark affirmative action legislation (the 1964 Civil Rights Act). This came about as a result of pressure from women’s groups.  The affirmative action amendment made all the difference for me and a number of my friends and colleagues in terms of future employment and professional advancement in the white male dominated foreign affairs field.

State’s “female-proof” glass ceiling still alive and kicking at State

Nevertheless nearly 50 years later, a “female-proof” glass ceiling remains in the stodgiest of our federal bureaucracies to the extent that the State Department refuses to make public its latest promotion statistics for both women and minorities. To ensure the statistics won’t become public the Department has classified them this year – the first time they’ve been classified as far as I can remember.

Here’s the concluding paragraph tacked on to the end of the article entitled “FS Promotions: HR releases analysis of 2013 data.” It’s found on page 34 of the Department of State Magazine’s June 2014 issue and reads almost like an afterthought:  “State Magazine in its June 2012 issue published promotion statistics by gender, ethnicity and race for the first time.  For the 2013 promotion results, the statistics that offer detailed breakdowns by grade level for each generalist cone and specialist skill group can be found online at:

Pardon my skepticism, but it seems to me that the Department’s refusal to publish the 2013 statistics other than through its own internal communications system and even then only marked by a special administrative classification (sbu) suggests that something smells rotten – not in the state of Denmark – but in the halls of HR at Foggy Bottom.   Why the secrecy this year with data that in the past was unclassified and publicly available?  What’s changed?  It’s not as if such aggregate data would reveal any individual’s name evoking privacy or security concerns.

Watch Dogs Missing

But where are the government shareholder watchdog equivalents to Trillenium and the Sustainability Group willing to demand that the Department declassify and release these secret figures immediately to the public?  Couldn’t State’s own IG or perhaps a Congressional committee do so? Or perhaps a government-accountability organization like POGO could submit an FOIA request? Or how about State’s own groups that promote and support women’s and minority employees’ rights? 

Sadly, without basic transparency, the continuing endemic gender and racial inequities in the Foreign Service will never be addressed because, well, the Ole’ Boys like it like that.