Wednesday, January 12, 2022

What's a D&I Council?

Folks who haven't followed developments in the Foreign Service or the Department of State in the past few years may not be familiar with Diversity & Inclusion Councils (D&I Councils). Although they may have existed in some form or another in isolation prior (perhaps with different names from post to post), the push for Department-wide D&I Councils emerged after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Originally, they focused on addressing racial issues and anti-Black racism in particular but have since expanded to include initiatives for those who want to make the Department a more welcoming and inclusive place for all marginalized groups including not only people of color but LGBTQI+ people, people with disabilities, religious minorities, singles in the Foreign Service, women, and more.

In February 2021, D&I Councils were even more officially institutionalized at the Department of State through several things, including the establishment of the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO) position reporting directly to the Secretary of State, the mandatory designation of one Deputy Assistant Secretary per bureau to support D&I efforts and to serve on a D&I Leadership Council, and the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. The Biden administration and Secretary Blinken have repeatedly emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion in U.S. foreign policy and the federal government.

D&I Councils have become crucial fora for addressing issues when they arise, whether that is the result of current events, shifting policies, recruitment and retention issues, or discrimination. Now, most posts and offices within the Department have a D&I Council where anyone can participate. For example, Mission China established D&I Councils across Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan at the direction of their ambassador and quickly gathered over 100 volunteers. Mission Korea has its own D&I Council of which I recently became a temporary co-chair. The work we've done includes hosting open conversations on sensitive and timely topics, arranging active bystander training to interrupt bias, creating community activities that showcase and celebrate the diverse cultures and backgrounds of Mission members, advocating for increased support for and awareness of marginalized groups, and connecting with our counterparts at both other U.S. missions and other foreign missions in Korea to share best practices and collaborate whenever possible.

The Department of State and the Foreign Service in particular still have a long way to go. For instance, I recently learned that the first-ever woman of color to serve as a Regional English Language Officer (RELO), a job category that has been around for over 50 years, was hired in 2019. (She is Dr. Nabila Massoumi, and you can read more about her on the State Department website.)

At the same time, volunteering for our D&I Council has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my entire tour in South Korea because I feel we have made a difference. We've advocated for and actually changed post policies that were unintentionally excluding some members of our community. We've helped managers understand how to be more inclusive and promote equity for all their staff. We've shared important parts of diverse histories and cultures with wider audiences than would otherwise know them. And we've created a space for people regardless of rank to be a part of the positive, long-term change they want to see in the U.S. government. So if you're on the fence about getting involved with your D&I Council (or equivalent), I say go for it! There's plenty of work to do, and we need all the help we can get.

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