By Amanda McCarthy
In 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined the demographic composition of the Department of State’s workforce. GAO’s report, which reviewed fiscal years 2002 through 2018, found that racial or ethnic minorities in the Department’s Civil Service were up to 29 percent less likely to be promoted than white peers with similar qualifications. The report also noted that representation of racial or ethnic minorities and women was lowest at management and executive levels. While the Department has implemented several plans, activities, and initiatives to improve diversity and representation throughout the ranks of its workforce, they have failed to make the desired improvements. The Department is still faced with longstanding diversity issues rooted much deeper than any one institution or administration.
In response to GAO’s latest report, the Department launched a series of barrier analyses to identify policies, practices, or procedures that might be preventing equal opportunities for all employees. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appointed Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley as the Department’s first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer (CDIO) in April and in June established the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to support her work.
Reporting directly to the secretary, the CDIO will lead the Department’s efforts to become more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible (DEIA). She will align and advance DEIA efforts across the Department—transparently and in a way that holds senior leaders accountable for improving DEIA in the Department. Additionally, the CDIO will finalize and then oversee implementing the Department’s five-year Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan that establishes a clear demographic baseline against which future progress will be measured.
A 30-year veteran of the Department, Abercrombie-Winstanley returned from retirement to fill the CDIO role. During a recent interview with State Magazine, she spoke candidly about the challenges that the Department faces in overcoming systemic barriers and how the workforce must take responsibility to implement a needed culture change.
“The Department aims to reflect America,” she said. “We come in all shapes and sizes, religious, socioeconomic, racial, color, ability, disability, etc., background. And we all need to be here. We understand that our foreign policy is going to be better carried out by a wider range of perspectives, backgrounds, and lived experiences. And that means all of America. We’re just trying to make sure that everyone within the organization feels equally supported, equally valued, and has the opportunity to bring their very best and reach their potential.”
See more from the interview below.