Thursday, March 18, 2010

Another Way to Look At It

Some of you may have read yesterday's post about the piece in the LA Times regarding the lack of African American Ambassadors. There can certainly be no doubt that the upper levels of the Department still bear the mark of the "Pale, Male and Yale" Days. I recall sitting in the Director's meetings for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and noting that of the 25 or so folks at the table, only two were women (and one of those was from human resources) and none were people of color. I was one of only a few more women sitting in the chairs around the wall in the room, and I was the only person of color. I do think HR is doing a good job at recruiting more minorities, but it will take time for folks to rise up through the ranks, so it is no surprise that the people at the upper levels are still mostly white men.

But my wife, who is clearly smarter than I am, made a good point about the La Times piece. She noted that the majority of Ambassadorial posts in Europe are not held by career Foreign Service. Those really cushy posts (you know the ones, come on, name them with me), are filled with political appointees.

At this point, some 30% of Ambassadors are political rather than career foreign service. So the question is, are the numbers in the article reflective of all Ambassadors or just career Ambassadors? And if they are all Ambassadors, then the question isn't why aren't there more minorities in the Foreign Service. The question is, why isn't the President appointing more minority Ambassadors? (And I would just like to note that if they want to have an American Indian Ambassador now, I am certainly willing to volunteer. I live to serve.)

And while we are looking at numbers, what percentage of Ambassadors, both political and career, are women?


Joanne said...

Excellent points! Two more: of the career FSOs who are both women and ambassadors, how many are in those few 'prestigious' posts not filled by appointees? And - how many women in senior positions at State are not appointees?

dallaggochie said...

I can say that of the ambassadors I've read in-depth stories about, most have been women. Two were ambassadors to Pakistan and one was in South America (can't name the country off-hand). They all were/are career officers.

I also remember reading about the ambassador to Japan, who is chosen as much according to the expectations of the Japanese as according to the desires of the U.S.

So I wonder how much the numbers are influenced by the "needs/expectations" of many host countries as much as they are by problems within the State Dept process?

This isn't to diminish the issue of lack of representation at all, mind you... just wondering about ambassadors and how thy are selected specifically. I think for this reason and for reasons your wife mentioned, maybe it's better to evaluate by looking at the high level positions that aren't political appointments at all?

lindsay said...

Its always been bothersome to me that ambassadorships can be political appointees. It just seems like badness waiting to happen.

Digger said...

I do know we have made Ambassadorial appointments to make political statements to the country where they were serving. We have sent women to the middle east and we sent a black ambassador to South Africa during apartaid.

john said...

I'd like to see how we tailor our ambassadors to the host country/ethnicity; for example, what percentage of ambassadors to Venezuela are latino/latina?

Connie said...

I also wonder how much the needs and expectations factor in. True, we should have the best person for the job, but I know that ideal doesn't always match reality. I was in SE Asia, the first Ambassador during our time at that post was a male, the second a female. The male was always treated formally and professionally by the press "Mr LastName". The female was more of an interesting celebrity and almost always referred to by her first name. It seemed both were respected, but there was definitely a difference!