The State Dedpartment’s first ever chief diversity and inclusion officer, Ambassador Gina Abercrombie Winstanley, wants to make her agency a leader in governmentwide efforts to improve diversity. But to do so, she has to reverse a culture of workplace silence.

“The department has an informal culture that hardwires employees to keep our heads down when bad things happen. This is no longer acceptable,” Winstanley said at the Dec. 8 Senior Executives Association Federal Executive Leadership Summit.

State department employees have told both Congress and the Government Accountability Office that the agency has a history of not rewarding those that promote diversity or getting rid of those that perpetuate discrimination, leading to a lack of diversity in the agency’s senior ranks.

To change things, Winstanley said that she has three pillars for her office to focus on: Intentionality, or the repeated focus on who isn’t being represented and why; transparency, by collecting detailed and accurate data on the demographics of the State Department workforce; and accountability, by holding perpetrators of discrimination, harassment and retaliation accountable.

“A State Department that looks like America will enhance our national security and better position us to handle the challenges of the 21st century. When we have more diversity – of thought, of expertise, of lived experience – at the table, our policies and initiatives are stronger, smarter and more creative,” Winstanley said.

“A more just and equitable federal workplace will enhance national security by ensuring that the full talent of all of our people result in a more robust meritocracy where all employees can thrive.”

The State Department’s recent diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility efforts follow a June executive order signed by President Joe Biden that requires agencies to designate chief diversity officers and submit plans for how to monitor and improve DEIA.

According to Winstanley, that plan will be released by the State Department in March 2022, and the agency also plans to issue a survey to employees to find out which initiatives are working, and which are not.

“We are working with relevant offices at the State Department to elevate DEIA in both civil and foreign service performance evaluations that will be announced early next year,” said Winstanley.

“The State Department intends to become the DEIA gold standard in the federal government.”

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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