Secretary of State Antony Blinken will launch a diversity initiative to make the US' oldest Cabinet agency look more like America itself, an effort he is framing as a national security imperative to make the country's diplomacy "stronger, smarter, more creative and more innovative."
Blinken announced Wednesday that he will appoint a chief diversity and inclusion officer for the department who will report directly to him, will soon release a 'Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan,' and will create a "D&I Leadership Council." In his statement, the secretary also said he will require each of the State Department's regional bureaus to designate an existing deputy assistant secretary to focus on creating more diversity in a department known for its "pale, male and Yale" workforce.
"The State Department has the honor of representing the American people to the world. To do that well, we must recruit and retain a workforce that truly reflects America," Blinken said. "And our diversity gives us a significant competitive advantage on the world stage. This is something that the President, the vice president, and I firmly believe."
The statement did not say when Blinken will appoint the diversity and inclusion officer.
President Joe Biden has said racial equity will be a core issue during his presidency and in his policy-making. Blinken, at his confirmation hearing, drew a direct link between his intention to promote human rights and democracy overseas and the need to focus on those issues at home. "We cannot do our job of advancing America's interests, values, and commitment to democracy without a team that is truly representative of the American people," he tweeted on February 5.
State Department data underscores the challenge Blinken faces.
Just over 70% of the full-time permanent State Department staff -- civil servants and foreign service officers -- are White. Foreign service officers literally represent the face of America at consulates and embassies around the world. More than 72% of foreign service specialists are White, while 10.7% are Hispanic and 10% are Black. More than 80% of foreign service generalists are White, while 6.5% are Hispanic and 6.2% are Black.
The gap becomes even more stark in the most senior ranks of the foreign service, where around 87% are White. The most recent US census data online puts the non-Hispanic White population at 60%.
Many foreign service officers told CNN they are heartened by the change in attitude toward diversity and inclusion but wonder whether Blinken will tackle the deeper challenge of structural racism or simply focus on personnel numbers. The Trump administration was openly hostile to the diversity and inclusion efforts, canceling federal training programs, while former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his taxpayer-funded Twitter account to denounce multiculturalism as "not who America is."
In his statement, Blinken said his goal "is to incorporate diversity and inclusion into the department's work at every level."