Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson wants his department to step up its game when it comes to recruiting for diversity.

“We have a great diversity gap in the State Department,” he said. “We need a State Department that reflects the American people, reflects who we are. The State Department must redouble our efforts to increase diversity at the highest ranks of the Department, including at the ambassador level. Only about 12 percent of our senior Foreign Service officers are non-white.”

Tillerson spoke at State Department headquarters recently, in an address to participants in the department’s student and fellowship programs.

He described a new directive under which, any time there’s an ambassador position open, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate. “Now they may not be ready, but we will know where the talent pool is,” he said. “A big part of developing our minority leadership is identifying qualified individuals five and 10 years before they are ready to become senior leaders and managing and developing their careers, as we do others, so that they’re undergoing preparations for those senior roles over time.”

The State Department already has a number of diversity initiatives in place. Diplomats-in-residence work the university circuit. There’s an ad campaign (“I am diplomacy, I am America”), and a summer internship program.

Still, numbers are low across the department. State reports just 5 percent of foreign service generalists and 25 percent of the civil service corps are African American. Hispanics make up 5 percent of foreign service generalists and 6 percent of the civil service.

Part of the fix might come from broadening the outreach effort. “America’s best and brightest are not just from the Ivy League,” Tillerson said. “So we’re going to build our recruiting team operations out in places that we haven’t concentrated before.”

He promised this would be more than a token effort. Rather than “coming through town once a year and dropping some pamphlets off at the recruiting office,” he said, department officials would build relationships with institutions, “so that people can more easily find us, and more importantly, we can find them, not just to rely upon people seeking us out.”

He promised deeper engagement in minority-focused job fairs, a stronger effort to tap ex-military candidates, and a more proactive approach to recruiting women. “Only about one-third of our senior Foreign Service officers are women, and we will work to close the gender gap as well,” he said.

He urged the students and interns to help advance the cause. “The seeds of greater diversity that we’re planting today will have to be nurtured for years to come. Whether you find yourselves here or somewhere else, as future leaders, it will be your responsibility to run with that torch,” he said.

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