diversity state department

Does the State Department have a diversity problem?

The question isn’t a new one, it is an important one, and one that continues to be asked: does the State Department have a diversity problem? Whenever there is a discussion of workforce development and the State Department, it appears. At times, the driver to increase diversity is strong, and at other times it is weak.

But where do we stand?

In order to represent the United States to the world, the Department of State must have a workforce that reflects the rich composition of its citizenry. The skills, knowledge, perspectives, ideas, and experiences of all of its employees contribute to the vitality and success of the global mission.
– Former Secretary of State John Kerry

Diversity initiatives in the State Department – the briefest of overviews

A peak to increase the diversity of the department’s workforce was under former Secretary of State Colin Powell (2001-2005).

As part of a three-year “diplomatic readiness initiative” started by Powell, the State Department focused on diversity outreach. Before Powell’s initiative, about 12% of Foreign Service Officers hired were minorities; after, the number increased to about 21%.

Not only was there a greater focus on hiring a diverse group of Officers, but specific initiatives to accomplish this task were implemented or improved. Examples being the Pickering Fellowship and Diplomats in Residence.

From Powell to Kerry, the push for a diverse workforce was a continuing stated and acted upon effort.

With the start of the Trump administration, this changed.

Hiring freezes were implemented, some of the fellowships to assist minority applicants to enter the Foreign Service were halted, and there was a general lack of commitment to support the growth of a diverse working population.

“The talk about diversity is great,” one senior State Department official said, “but he hasn’t put his money where his mouth is.” (A comment made regarding Tillerson)

For a year or more, it seemed like there were non-stop publications that compounded the above (2017 in review).

But what do the numbers show?

Comparing 2016 to 2019

In November 2016, I published a post on the State Department’s diversity statistics. We will use this as a base to compare to the recently published March 2019 statistics.

Before anybody makes a comment, yes I know less than three years is not a long enough spread to make a definitive comment, but it is what I have.

First, let’s review the most recent U.S. census data, which was 2010 (sources 1 and 2) and the pertinent results follow:

Not Hispanic: 83.7%
Hispanic: 16.3%
White: 72.4%
African American: 12.6%
American Indian: .9%
Asian: 4.8%
Native Hawaiian: .2%
Other race: 6.2%
Two or more: 2.9%
Female: 50.8%
Male: 49.2%

For the tables below, the following key is required:

  • All figures are %;
  • The first % are 2016 figures, the second and (bold) % are 2019 figures;
  • Information on gender, ethnicity, and race are provided; and
  •  SES = Senior Executive Service (Civil), SFS = Senior Foreign Service (Foreign)
Gender, 2016 v 2019
 Female (%)Male (%)
Civil Service54.51, 54.145.49, 45.8
FS Generalist40.47, 41.259.53, 58.7
FS Specialist27.72, 28.972.28, 71.0
Total43.75, 43.656.25, 56.3
 Gender, 2016 v 2019
 Female (%)Male (%)
SES**41.00, 39.759.00, 60.2
SFS**32.40, 31.867.60, 68.1
 Ethnicity, 2016 v 2019
 Hispanic (%)Not Hispanic (%)Unsp (%)
Civil Service6.39, 6.693.51, 93.30.10, 0.00
FS Generalist5.79, 6.394.18, 93.40.02, 0.2
FS Specialist9.08, 9.890.89, 89.70.03, 0.3
Total6.82, 7.393.12, 92.50.06, 0.1
 Ethnicity, 2016 v 2019
 Hispanic (%)Not Hispanic (%)Unsp (%)
SES**3.77, 4.396.23, 95.60.00, 0.00
SFS**4.40, 4.995.60, 95.00.00, 0.00
 Race, 2016 v 2019 (%)
 WhiteAfrican AmericanAmerican IndianAsianNative HawaiianMulti-raceUnsp
Civil Service60.92, 60.724.88, 24.50.50, 0.406.26, 6.500.15, 0.14.40, 4.72.88, 2.6
FS Generalist81.62, 81.15.36, 5.40.31, 0.306.85, 6.70.05, 0.03.72, 4.22.09, 2.0
FS Specialist75.86, 75.08.89, 8.70.38, 0.505.69, 5.90.17, 0.15.12, 5.83.89, 3.7
Total71.10, 71.014.84, 14.30.41, 0.406.32, 6.40.12, 0.14.35, 4.82.86, 2.6
 Race, 2016 v 2019 (%)
 WhiteAfrican AmericanAmerican IndianAsianNative HawaiianMulti-raceUnsp
SES**89.96, 89.04.18, 3.40.00, 0.03.35, 4.80.00, 0.01.26, 1.31.26, 1.3
SFS**87.36, 89.14.59, 3.00.19, 0.13.84, 3.40.00, 0.01.59, 1.82.43, 2.4

What do the numbers show?

There is a lot of information that can be pulled from the above figures, and I welcome you to dig in as much as you like. But, here are some that stand out.

Gender: Female representation has mixed results. Civil Service (CS) female representation decreased. Foreign Service (FS) Generalist and Specialist increased. With males being the opposite for all of the above.

The opposite took place in the SES and SFS, with males increasing.

Overall, there is still a greater representation of males than females.

Ethnicity: Across the board increase from those identifying as Hispanic. Still a long way to go before hitting the national average.

Race: Basically held steady. Increase in those who identify as White in the SFS and a 1.6% drop from those who identify as African American, which is quite the change. 

Overall: The State Department still has a lot of work to do. 

If we ask if the State Department has a diversity “problem” and define it as not at least meeting the national average, then the answer is yes, it does. 

If we look deeper at the SES and SFS, then it is an overwhelming issue. 

Again, only a three year review. Hopefully, they will be heading in the right direction three years from now.

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