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The State Department has a systemic diversity problem – POLITICO


In a labor market that increasingly offers premium salaries and benefits to the highest-educated workers, the State Department’s competitive landscape is getting tougher. “Whether it’s civil service or foreign service, you have the creme de la creme at State. So you can take that skill set elsewhere, make more money, and be recognized,” Hicks Jr. said

“There’s a lot of killing the messenger” when staff raise a problem, said one diplomat of color. “Gen Z is not going to put up with that. They’re going to check out the furniture for one or two tours [overseas postings], but if they don’t think the corporate culture fits their principles, they’re going to leave.” He notes this departure is often encouraged by spouses working in more dynamic private-sector environments.

‘You have to keep your head down’

Skeptics might ask: If the problems are so deep and obvious, why haven’t more staff spoken up?

Mid-level staff are “hard-wired to keep our heads down,” said Maryum Saifee, a career diplomat who’s been posted to Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt.

The message staff receive from their arrival at State is: “Keep your head down and behave yourself,” said another female former diplomat. “For day-to-day stuff that’s fine. But when senior officers tell you that about racism and sexual assault — and I suffered both — that’s not OK,” she said.

The State Department’s Inspector General previously noted that sexual harassment is “likely underreported” in the department, and that a key reason is “lack of confidence in the department’s ability to resolve complaints.”

Around half the diplomats who experienced or witnessed sexual harassment did not report it, according to an internal department survey. Even so, 635 reports of sexual harassment and over 100 reports of sexual assault were filed from 2014-2017.

The former diplomat told POLITICO that after working at the White House and being selected for overseas postings she was sexually assaulted by her boss. “He groomed me, isolated me, all the sort of textbook stuff,” she said, adding “I spoke out and got branded uncooperative.”

She said she received no formal reply to two complaints filed about the incidents, but that her boss achieved promotion into the Senior Foreign Service as she waited for the complaints process to advance. Her takeaway from the experience: “Issues like sexual harassment don’t disqualify you from promotion.”

POLITICO offered the State Department the opportunity to explain its sexual harassment procedure, but didn’t receive a reply.

Amy Dahm, a former diplomat who retired on medical grounds after serious harassment, is supporting passage of the State Harassment Assault and Prevention Eradication (SHAPE) Act, which is designed to bring new reporting protocols, support services and accountability to the State Department.

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“I documented the abuse I was facing to over 20 officials, but nothing was done. When I attempted to report my sexual harassment to an HR director, she screwed her eyes shut, plugged her ears, and told me, ‘No names!’” Dahm testified in the Truman Center report.

The problems are not limited to women. Wes Reisser — a deputy director in the department’s Bureau of International Organizations — said he took a State diversity training course thinking it would help him be a better manager. When he found himself the victim of homophobic discrimination by a Trump administration political appointee he said he realized the department’s H.R. systems had deteriorated from “creaky” to dysfunctional.

“I never thought as a middle-aged white guy, I was going to have to file an Equal Employment Opportunity Act complaint,” Reisser said. “It was an incredibly challenging and painful experience, and it proved to me that the department really didn’t have the tools in place to help people when they are illegally targeted by people above them.”

Former diplomats told POLITICO the situation will not change without a new set of incentives for managers, and protections for staff who speak out. “The department needs to welcome and reward dissent,” Reisser said.

This content was originally published here.

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