By Eric Wagner
Government Executive, August 18, 2017 —
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that he will launch a new initiative to improve diversity in the foreign service, including a requirement that at least one minority candidate be considered for all ambassadorial positions.
Tillerson made the announcement during a speech to agency interns and fellows, in which he noted the significant gap between the racial makeup of State and the American population.
“We have a great diversity gap in the State Department,” Tillerson said. “We need a State Department that reflects the American people, reflects who we are. The State Department must redouble our efforts to increase diversity at the highest ranks of the department, including at the ambassador level.”
The secretary said that about 12 percent of senior Foreign Service officers are people of color, and that statistic is “about the same” for the agency’s senior executive service contingent.
Tillerson said he has instructed staff that at least one minority must be considered and interviewed for every open ambassador position. State Department Press Secretary Heather Nauert said that even if this plan does not immediately produce results, it will advance the agency’s diversity goals going forward.
“When we look at ambassadorial candidates, when we look at that pool, we want a minority represented in those interviews, to be interviewed for the job,” she said. “And if they’re not ready for that position yet, that gives us the opportunity to know who they are and put them on our radar. And it helps us get them ready for the future.”
In addition to that effort, Tillerson announced that he will retain “all of our fellowship and internship programs,” including the Rangel and Pickering fellowship programs, which had been briefly suspended in June. And he plans to boost the agency’s recruitment efforts at college campuses, particularly historically black colleges and universities.
“While our diplomats in residence at Howard, Spellman, Morehouse and Florida A&M do an outstanding job ensuring that people understand the opportunities at the State Department, there are more than 100 historically black colleges and universities, and there’s so much more we can do to raise awareness about the range of careers at State,” he said. “[We] also want to expand our footprint at minority-focused job fairs, and we can do more to recruit from one of the most diverse and proven talent pools, as I mentioned: our U.S. military.”
Nauert said the initiative has been on Tillerson’s mind since his first day as secretary of state, and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan alluded to the need for greater diversity during a town hall event for State employees earlier this month. Although the violence in Charlottesville, Va., makes Friday’s announcement particularly timely, it was not the impetus behind it, she said.
“Two weeks ago, Deputy Secretary Sullivan spoke at a town hall meeting . . . and he said we have a commitment to diversity, and we can do a whole lot better than we currently do as a State Department,” Nauert said. “That was really the genesis of the secretary’s comments today.”
Nauert said she did not have a timeframe for when the agency will begin ramping up its minority recruitment efforts, but she said the initiative is “important to the secretary.”