By Melissa Ledesma-Leese
To meet its diplomatic mission more effectively, the Department of State is working on a comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy that will encompass strategy and action on recruitment, retention, and accountability. The strategy will outline ways to ensure that the Department’s workforce, at all levels, is most effective and better represents the diversity of the American people.
The Bureau of Global Talent Management’s (GTM) Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Unit, in partnership with the Office of Civil Rights, has worked tirelessly to ensure that the Department continues to foster a more diverse workforce and develop as an inclusive employer of choice. The Department promotes a workforce that is fair, open, cooperative, supportive, and empowering—the five factors the Office of Personnel Management considers in assessing an inclusive environment.
In the workplace, inclusion is fully appreciating and valuing the diverse talents and backgrounds of employees, while empowering them to participate fully.
In the final stages before publishing the Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan (DISP), the D&I Unit focuses on diversity and inclusion, with a particular emphasis on how the Department can strengthen its culture of inclusion. The D&I Unit builds on the idea that if you have a diverse employee population and a strong culture of inclusion, you will enhance decision-making, increase innovation and problem-solving, and foster more creativity among teams. Employee Affinity Groups and representatives from every bureau provided input to make this a whole-of-Department plan and drive accountability and results.
While there have been individual efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the past, the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent’s (DG) commitment and prioritization of diversity and inclusion through GTM’s Four Pillar Mission has elevated the program and has helped lead to the establishment of diversity and inclusion councils across the Department. From only 14 councils a year ago, bureaus and overseas missions have now established more than 75 councils and counting.
GTM’s D&I Unit has worked to track internal diversity and inclusion efforts through standardized official Traffic Analysis by Geography and Subject (TAGS) on cables using “KDNI” to obtain a complete picture of the diversity and inclusion efforts undertaken by bureaus and posts around the world and to identify gaps and trends.
Recently, the team has seen unprecedented interest in the Department’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Part of the team’s mandate is to provide resources to offices, posts, and bureaus that empower them to weave factors of inclusion into all aspects of their work. The team facilitates “Open Conversations”—a platform that allows Department offices and posts to initiate challenging dialogue in a safe space. Topics of the team’s previous Open Conversations have included “I Want to Speak to a Real American,” “Employee Labels,” and “Managing Generational Differences.” In light of the novel coronavirus pandemic and current events related to race in the United States, the team has had the opportunity to show the value of the Open Conversation platform in facilitating meaningful conversations on race and topics such as “Telework Tales” and “Unconscious Bias and How it Affects You.”
As posts and bureaus establish their own diversity and inclusion councils, the D&I Unit provides them with the resources they need to create a group that will meet the specific needs of their organization.
“New councils should engage senior leadership early and consistently, set concrete goals with the council, and quickly establish inclusive structures, processes, and foundational documents—such as charters and council committees—to implement those goals, pending front office clearance,” said Elise Mellinger, former diversity and inclusion co-council founder for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) who is planning to join the GTM D&I Unit this fall.
Some councils are much further along in their development than others. The D&I Unit also encourages well-established diversity councils, such as CSO and the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security (DS) and Consular Affairs (CA), to share their wisdom and best practices with those who are just starting.
“As the first bureau to establish a diversity council, the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Council for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) continues to assist other bureaus and missions abroad develop their own councils, create diversity and inclusion officer positions, and share best practices,” said Isabel Romero, chair for the DSS CDI council. “DSS has executed three annual climate surveys, offering an opportunity for Diplomatic Security employees to highlight successes, solicit employees’ confidential feedback, and proactively identify issues for leadership to address before escalation. The DSS CDI is utilizing recommendations from the latest climate survey to develop programming and outreach needs within our bureau and will continue to provide safe spaces for constructive feedback for DSS employees.”
The work of the diversity councils around the Department is gaining momentum in helping to create lasting change. The D&I Unit stays in communication with the councils to support their needs, learn from their experience, and serve as a sounding board to share their work.
“Creating [the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA)] Diversity and Inclusion Council has been extremely rewarding for our inaugural council, but it’s also been a lot of work on challenging issues,” said Caroline Buddenhagen, CA’s diversity and inclusion council coordinator. “Our council had just hit its stride when [the COVID-19 pandemic] shifted priorities and took many of us away from the office. Keeping momentum has required spreading out responsibility and tasks, so no one is overwhelmed. Now that we have a clear path forward with a set of strategic goals for our bureau, we’re emphasizing that the council can’t do it alone. Every employee needs to play a role in meaningful change.”
Many diversity council participants agree that it is crucial to interact with leadership to ensure transparency and assistance in diversity and inclusion efforts.
“Engage your senior leadership early and often,” said Tyler Savoy, a senior desk officer in DSS and former chair of the DSS’ Council for Diversity and Inclusion. “Having DSS senior leadership’s support for our Council for Diversity and Inclusion remains so critical for our success, in the short-term and throughout the existence of our council. Our role is to advise our [principal deputy assistant secretary] and keep a pulse on the sentiments, beliefs, and values of personnel across our bureau. But in my year chairing our council, senior leadership support is what gave credence to the value of our programming and helped to better foster learning and collaboration for DSS in the areas of diversity and inclusion.” Part of the Department’s metric in measuring employee satisfaction of feeling included is represented in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), an annual questionnaire that contains a subset of questions related to diversity and inclusion. The D&I Unit aims to weave these metrics into the DISP as part of its effort to improve accountability and retention. The DISP asks bureaus and officials to look at their own specific FEVS results related to diversity and inclusion, and develop action plans to improve those scores.
As the DG recently shared with a regional D&I council, “Cultural change is often slow and incremental, but when circumstances are conducive to change, it’s incumbent not just upon those of us in leadership but upon each of us to see it through. Each of us can support this shift not only to capture the dividends from the high-performing diverse teams but also to help our institution grow and evolve.”
Contact GTM’s D&I Unit via email to learn more.
Melissa Ledesma-Leese is the deputy advisor in the Diversity and Inclusion Unit.