Center for Strategic Communication

By Patricia H Kushlis

It’s been nearly four months since we asked the State Department to grant open and public access to its statistics – broken down by gender and race – regarding promotions in the Foreign Service in “What’s the big secret with the State Department’s diversity statistics and why”?

A similar question was posed by Diplopundit at about the same time:  “Foreign Service 2013 Promotion Results — Gender, Ethnicity, Race Stats Still Behind the Great Firewall” August 18, 2014.

We found it puzzling that both OPM (the Office of Personnel Management) and the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) are required by law to report on how federal agencies are complying with EEO regulations and mandates, yet the State Department has either exempted itself or been exempted from reporting EEO numbers for the Foreign Service.  Nevertheless, neither the reasons for the secretiveness nor the statistics in question have been revealed publicly. 

Hope Springs Eternal?

We continue to await word from State Human Resources (HR) and the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) as to what the numbers are and why they have been kept hush-hush for years on end. 

In the meantime, however, we ran across this presentation about the Foreign Service on PBS’s show To The Contrary:  “The Foreign Service: In Search of Diversity.” November 14, 2014. 

If you have not seen it, this video is well worth watching.

It is about 25 minutes long and details efforts, primarily in recruitment, that the State Department is making to attract a more diverse workforce; one that reflects, as former Director General Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield put it in an interview on the program, “the face of America.”

What struck us about the video, however, is that while efforts to recruit women and minorities have been strengthened, there is no visible progress within the State Department to mentor, retain, and ultimately promote women and minorities into leadership positions.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is refreshingly frank about these shortcomings, stating at various times that “[the Foreign Service] has a retention issue,” “At the mid-levels and senior levels the numbers are not there,” and “[the Foreign Service] must do a better job mentoring [women and minorities].”

We agree.

But would the Department please tell us how it intends to rectify the situation when officials in leadership positions continue to hide the statistics, why this glaring shortcoming wasn’t addressed years before and why officers – like Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield – who have the authority to implement the needed changes haven’t done so?  Lamentations – on or off camera – are not enough.

For years the Department has concentrated on recruiting women and minorities but short of the tandem couples policy in 1971 – which over the years has sometimes only been grudgingly implemented, it has done little – if anything – to retain, train and help develop the professional careers of too many of its women and minority officers. 

Not long ago, however, we obtained some of the missing data. From what we have seen, the situation for women and minorities is even worse than Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield indicated in that PBS interview.

Through the efforts of a loyal WV reader, promotion statistics for 2009-2011 broken down by gender and ethnicity suddenly arrived at our doorstep, and, having examined them, we can say that Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is right — the numbers are awful!  They show that nearly 88% of the Foreign Service at the 02 (GS-14 equivalent) level and above is white.

This is the face of America, alright, but only if you’re talking about 18th and 19th century America! 

Aggregating the number of generalist officers competing for promotion in 2009, 2010, and 2011, moving from a mid-level grade of FS-2 to FS-1 and on up through senior Foreign Service levels Minister Counselor to Career Minister, we see that out of approximately 5,250 officers in those grades, 4,604 are white, compared to 243 African Americans, 235 Hispanics, and 175 Asian Americans (plus a minute number of Native Americans).  By gender, more than 3,500 officers were men and slightly over 1,700 were women.  So while incoming Foreign Service classes are equally 50% men/women, the mid and senior level numbers are heavily skewed toward men, 67% to 33%.

If State would spend as much time working to improve the abysmal EEO situation as it does to hide it, something just might change.

Where, for instance, has John Robinson, Director of the Office of Civil Rights and Diversity been all these years – shouldn’t he have been leading the charge?  After all, Robinson assumed the position March 3, 2008 – now nearly seven years ago.  Lots can be done in far less time – providing there’s the will to do it. 

One final statistical note which relates to the article on Hispanics that I posted in July entitled “Unfulfilled Promises, Ignored Mandates: State’s Abysmal Hispanic Record.”  Our reader also provided 2012 promotion statistics for generalists, broken down by cone.  Furthermore, the statistics indicated whether the officer was Hispanic or non-Hispanic.

The story told by the 2012 numbers ratifies the depiction of State’s record with Hispanics described in our earlier article.   Let’s start on a good note: if you are a Hispanic in the management cone (specialty), 2012 was a good year for you.  5 out of 8 officers competing for promotion at the 02 to CM levels were promoted.  In other cones, the number aren’t so good: Among Consular specialists 1 out of 13 Hispanics were promoted;  1 Hispanic economic officer was promoted out of 12; and 3 Hispanic political officers out of 30 are promoted.  

I close with a plea to HR and S/OCR to open the entire record for public view – as a first step.  If, however, the Department continues to refuse to do so, then isn’t it time for Inspector General Steve Linick and his staff to launch an independent investigation that delves into the causes and ramifications of the problem and proposes remedies? 

What I’ve written is necessarily based on fragmented or partial statistics but they seem to bolster what many officers, including Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, are saying: clearly there’s more, much more to be done to rectify the problem.

Note:  this post is part of WhirledView’s long running series, “The Troubled State of State: A System Run Amok.”  For the record, this is episode #32; the first was January 23, 2008.