US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has recruited a former senior professional diplomat to lead the way in addressing the State Department’s longstanding diversity and inclusion challenges.
Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, who previously served as the Counter-Terrorism Deputy Coordinator and U.S. Ambassador to Malta, will rejoin the Department as Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, a newly established position reporting directly to the Secretary of State. Blinken created the position following calls from the diplomatic and national security community to address the division’s decades of failure to address issues of diversity and inclusion.
Abercrombie-Winstanley has joined a growing chorus of former diplomats calling for urgent and systematic changes in the attitudes and functions of the State Department, particularly following a nationwide settlement of racial injustices following the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
Blinken has vowed to make diversity and inclusion a top priority during his tenure at the State Department. “I will take it as a sign of my success during my tenure as Secretary that we have managed to create a much more sustainable foundation for promoting true diversity in the State Department to ensure we have an overseas service and a foreign policy workforce who like look like the country they represent, ”he told lawmakers during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 10th.
Half a dozen US diplomats, all speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not empowered to speak to the press, welcomed the new administration’s pledges, but some were skeptical that after years the Biden administration would really take off Can move high promises and mixed results from previous administrations.
One official pointed out that it is easy to set up new committees and task forces, but it is more difficult to get real results and “actually change” the culture in the department. Many said they believed one of the department’s biggest challenges was retaining employees after they were hired to lose the department’s historic reputation as “pale, manly, and Yale.”
In 2017, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also pledged to address diversity challenges at the State Department and announced a minority recruitment initiative, including a requirement that at least one minority candidate must be considered for all ambassadorial posts. His promise had little results as some metrics further diminished State Department diversification efforts during the Trump administration.
In 1986, for example, the United States had six black ambassadors out of a total of 150 ambassadorial posts. In 2020, the United States had three African American ambassadors and four Hispanic professional diplomats serving as ambassadors out of 189 ambassadorial posts, according to the American Academy of Diplomacy.
Jalina Porter, the deputy spokeswoman for the deputy foreign ministry, said Foreign policy The Biden administration recognizes historical shortcomings in the Foreign Ministry and undertakes to correct the course. She noted that this will be the first administration to have a “dedicated school principal whose entire focus will be on correcting past mistakes”.
Porter, who confirmed the new appointment, added that Abercrombie-Winstanley “understands the challenges ahead and is committed to ensuring that we approach our goals realistically so that they are sustainable.”
Abercrombie-Winstanley served in the State Department for three decades, including in Asia and the Middle East. She was the first woman to serve as the US consul general in Jeddah to head a US diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia. After leaving the department, she became an outspoken advocate of transforming the State Department’s culture to address its track record on diversity, including testifying before Congress on the affairs and her personal experience as a black career foreign service officer.
Blinken announced in February that it would publish a “strategic plan” to tackle the diplomatic corps’ sluggish record for diversity and inclusion. He also announced that he would set up a “Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council” in the department to monitor its progress, and said he would require each regional office to appoint a deputy assistant secretary to deal with the issue concentrated.
According to official figures, the State Department’s challenge has been around for a long time and goes well beyond the retrocession observed under President Donald Trump. The State Department lags behind many other federal agencies in its ability to recruit and retain a diverse workforce, according to a comprehensive government surveillance report released last year. The Government Accountability Office report found that the department had made little progress in some areas and declined in other areas. For example, the proportion of African Americans serving abroad rose from just 6 to 7 percent between fiscal years 2002 and 2018, while the proportion of African American women in the department’s total workforce fell from 13 to 9 percent in those years. The report also found that minority workers in the department receive 16 to 42 percent fewer promotions than their white counterparts.
A surge in violence against Asian Americans, including a mass shooting in Georgia that killed eight people last month, has also sparked talks about the State Department’s discrimination against its Asian-American employees. Asian-American diplomats reported discrimination and assignment restrictions because of their ethnicity Politico reported.
Rep. Andy Kim, a New Jersey Democrat who used to work in the State Department, shared his experience on a Twitter thread on March 20. “I once received a letter in which I was forbidden to work on Korean topics just because of my surname. I was stunned, ”he said tweeted.
Blinken raised the issue at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in March. “I am very concerned about these reports. I’ve talked to Asian American colleagues in the department about it and suffice it to say I look into it, ”he said.
Blinken sent a message to State Department officials after the mass shootings in Georgia condemning the “alarming rise” in harassment and targeted combat against Asian Americans and islanders in the Pacific. “It is up to each of us to eradicate racism, xenophobia and all other forms of systemic discrimination in our communities and institutions,” he wrote.
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