Saturday, February 07, 2015

Wither Diversity?

There were a number of articles (here and here for example) out this week about the Department's plans to appoint an LGBT envoy with the task of promoting LGBT rights globally. I am really excited and pleased that the Department is doing this, especially given that the anonymous official quoted in the Washington Blade said, "It’s been long in the making because the secretary insisted the envoy be a career Foreign Service officer from inside the institution, someone who is part of the fabric of the institution, a diplomat by training.”

I hoped against hope that unlike every single openly gay Ambassador, that this person would be a lesbian or a person of color.

But before I could even blog about it, buzzfeed announced that the person selected is likely to be Randy Berry.

Another white man.

Don't get me wrong. I am not anti-white men. My dad is a white man and he is one of my favorite people on the planet. And I count among my closest friends in the Department many many gay white men.

And I am certain Berry is extremely qualified and will be an excellent envoy. I don't know him, but several people whose opinions I trust say he is awesome.

But still.

The Department seems unable to find lesbians or gay people of color to select for these appointments and it is disappointing. To suggest that there are no qualified lesbians or gay people of color stretches credibility.

And let's even say, for argument's sake, that there are none at the most senior levels. I will even grant that the highest ranking lesbian I know in the Department is an 01. I think the highest ranking gay person of color I know is my rank. And I get that this appointment needs to be someone high ranking. Someone from the Senior Foreign Service.

But we seem to be in a vicious cycle here where lesbians and gay people of color are not experienced enough or high ranking enough to be considered for these appointments. So they go to white men, which means they never get experienced enough for these appointments. There has to be a better way than waiting YEARS for the possibility of a lesbian or person of color to make it to those ranks. Especially when you consider that the total number of women and people of color in the Senior Foreign Service is depressingly small and nowhere close to representative of even their percentage in the Department, much less in general society.

I don't know what the answer is. I believe in selecting the most qualified person for the job. But as my wife pointed out this morning, it is much easier to win at king of the mountain when you are already on top. That isn't a level playing field.

I think the Department needs to try harder at leveling it, at least for its own employees. Perhaps deliberately selecting some lesbians and people of color as deputies to these positions would give them the experience, and the exposure, to break through that glass ceiling.