A Senate hearing on “diversity and equity” in American diplomacy proved to be a wasted opportunity to tackle a core question in our politics: Do we want equality or “equity”?
Instead, the hearing kicked off with mostly old white men bemoaning that the senior ranks of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are dominated by old white men.
In essence, they complained that the agencies don’t do enough to discriminate against their own grandchildren in hiring.
The official name of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing July 26 was “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in U.S. Diplomacy and Development.”
The two officials who testified—Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the State Department’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, and Neneh Diallo, USAID’s chief diversity officer—were bathed in praise and never challenged on their methods or results, or the controversial goal of “equity” itself.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the committee’s chairman, began by complaining that “progress has been slow” on diversity at the State Department.
Menendez held up a chart showing that from 2002 to 2021, although the overall proportion of racial minorities increased from 28% to 34%, the percentage of black employees decreased from 17% to 15%. (African Americans make up about 13% of the U.S. population.)
The New Jersey Democrat’s bigger beef was that the senior ranks are around 85% white, and that only 12% of ambassadors are from “underrepresented” communities.
The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, complained about the prevalence of employees from coastal and urban areas rather than the heartland.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., irrelevantly asked about access to “comprehensive reproductive services” (she meant abortion) for foreign service officers overseas, while lamenting that 80% of State Department doctors are white men.
The approach taken by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was somewhat more on point. Cruz charged that the Biden administration is staffed by “radicals” under whom the State Department has “alienated friends and appeased enemies.”
Cruz accused both the State Department and USAID of hiring practices based on the leftist definition of “equity” that result in “brazen discrimination.”
The Texas Republican showed an email from a senior official that alluded to allegations from State Department employees that candidates aren’t being hired for open positions because they are straight white men, have the wrong religion, or are disabled.
The State Department’s Abercrombie-Winstanley said she never had seen or cleared any such hiring guidance.
In reaction to Cruz’s remarks, Menendez sanctimoniously read the definition of “equity” from a dictionary as “the quality of being fair and impartial, freedom from bias or favoritism.”
Evidently, the New Jersey Democrat hasn’t read Vice President Kamala Harris’ definition. In a video she posted on Twitter a couple of days before the 2020 election, Harris clearly explained how equality and equity are now at war:
So there’s a big difference between equality and equity. Equality suggests, ‘Oh, everyone should get the same amount.’ The problem with that [is] not everybody’s starting out from the same place.
So if we’re all getting the same amount, but you started out back there and I started out over here, we could get the same amount but you’re still going to be that far back behind me. It’s about giving people the resources and the support they need, so that everyone can be on equal footing, and then compete on equal footing. Equitable treatment means we all end up in the same place.
The question is: Should the U.S. government hire by creating more equality of opportunity or by rigging outcomes in an unconstitutional manner? For diversity and inclusion officers as well as chief diversity officers, it’s the latter path.
If the percentages of racial groups at the State Department and USAID are at variance from the general population, we should ask why. If it is due to racism or other barriers, we must address them, but not by adding new forms of discrimination.
To that end, here are the sorts of questions the senators should have asked:
- What is the breakdown by sex and race of applicants for jobs at the State Department and those who take the foreign service exam?
- Is there any difference in the pass/fail percentage by race? Are these results due to something other than measurable qualifications or test scores?
- If most foreign service officers have a college degree, and attainment of college degrees varies by racial group, would that not result in disproportionately high representation of groups with college degrees?
Ibram X. Kendi, the patron saint of woke progressives, says he believes that disparity in results only can be the result of systemic discrimination. All other inputs aren’t worth considering.
His solution? “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.”
That is the race-essentialist thinking that informs the Biden administration’s approach to “equity.”
However, with its highly competitive entrance process, the foreign service is at the mercy of an applicant pool that is affected by a wide variety of social and individual factors beyond its control.
For one, American education is failing in many states and cities to produce high school graduates who can read and write, much less find Finland on a map or distinguish between Moldova and the Maldives.
Not Enough Information
One big problem at the State Department and USAID is a lack of information.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., asked how the State Department and USAID gathered data for their baseline. USAID’s Diallo replied that the agencies hope to launch a survey soon to “evaluate the composition of our workforce.”
The State Department’s Abercrombie-Winstanley said the department has a portal through which employees voluntarily may supply information, and is working on a pilot program to break down LGBTQ+ nomenclature, so that people are able to identify themselves perfectly.
Herein lies another problem: These internal polls always get low response rates. Maybe people are too busy, or perhaps they don’t want to supply information they suspect will be used to discriminate against them. Any conclusions reached from the reports of a self-selected minority of the workforce have little evidentiary value.
Notwithstanding this, Abercrombie-Winstanley testified that her diversity office at the State Department had “done a climate survey and we know the vast majority of our employees support [the department’s equity efforts].”
One thing she has done is to tie action on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility to the promotion criteria for foreign service officers.
Diallo also did this at USAID. The approach holds foreign service and civil service managers responsible for something they have no control of—the applicant pool, which is deficient in certain officially desired identity groups. Every hiring manager must compete for the same candidates in a contest where failure to hire “diverse” applicants results in lower performance evaluations. This is exactly what is happening.
In a recent job assignment cycle, for example, women were one-third of the applicants for prestige positions such as deputy chief of mission and principal officer, but won roughly two-thirds of the available jobs.
Changing the Test
It is well known at the State Department, though career suicide to admit, that qualified applicants from officially desired identity groups have an advantage in assignments.
Abercrombie-Winstanley boasted of another achievement: making unprecedented changes to the test for applicants for foreign service officer.
Abercrombie-Winstanley said she believes that the race-blind written test “has zero correlation to being a successful diplomat.” She said she prefers the subjective, easier-to-game oral exam, which “actually does have a correlation to success as a diplomat—[it] is [a] test for racists, or sexists, or homophobes, or ableists.”
“Those are the things that we need to be screening for,” Abercrombie-Winstanley said.
Now, instead of a process in which only those passing the written exam go on to take the oral exam, the State Department’s Board of Examiners will be able to pick others from the pile that failed. The goal: to bring “intersectional” factors into play and ensure an “equitable” outcome by race, sex, or other identity markers.
The hearing glossed over the fact that the State Department already goes far to encourage diversity in hiring.
Senior diplomats in residence are posted to colleges serving predominantly black and Hispanic students. The Pickering and Rangel fellowships, which bypass the written exam and mostly are filled by minority applicants, have accounted for around 20% of foreign service recruitment in recent years—and in particular a significant majority of the black foreign service officers hired.
In fiscal year 2022, the State Department hired 327 foreign service officers, of whom 90—nearly a third—were Pickering and Rangel fellows. USAID has similar recruitment channels that bypass the objective, race-blind exam.
But as chief diversity and inclusion officer, Abercrombie-Winstanley wants more: a foreign service intake that reflects the proportions of identity groups (excepting, of course, diversity of political opinion) desired by the Biden administration.
For many years, top universities have ensured the diversity of incoming classes by eschewing test scores and taking a subjective, “holistic” approach to candidate selection. Echoing the language of academic admissions, the State Department clearly wants this kind of flexibility to doctor the intake of foreign service classes in favor of currently preferred groups.
Similarly, USAID’s Diallo said her agency will use “non-traditional means” to recruit desired applicants, including outreach at universities that cater to mostly non-white populations and increased mid-career, lateral hiring that bypasses objective tests.
After 18 months on the job at the State Department, Abercrombie-Winstanley seemed to have more questions than answers in her testimony.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., asked why the State Department hasn’t been able to identify supposed barriers to hiring women and minorities. Abercrombie-Winstanley’s answer was that the department now has studies on “barrier analysis” underway to find out.
Booker also asked about retention: Why do black officers leave at a (slightly) higher rate? Once again, Abercrombie-Winstanley’s answer was that she has “set up a retention unit” to look into it.
A 2021 report by the Congressional Research Service found “poor information on why people choose to leave” the State Department. One obvious reason for attrition, however, is that talented black officers are in demand all over the private sector, where the pay is much better than in government.
However, the State Department’s diversity, equity, and inclusion mentality ignores this possibility and focuses instead on “microaggressions” and other questionable factors as the cause for officers leaving mid-career.
Foot on the Scale
If you want to see Kendian or Harris-style “equity” in action, here it is: Diallo touted USAID’s 2022 new officer cohort as the “most diverse to date,” with 52% racial and ethnic minorities, including 18% black, 18% Hispanic, and 14% Asian.
According to the 2020 census, blacks make up roughly 13% of the U.S. population, Hispanics 19%, and Asians 6%.
Whites, representing 48% of the USAID class, account for 58% of the U.S. population. Women now make up roughly half of incoming foreign service classes.
Over time, these numbers militate a gradual alignment of the foreign service toward national norms; today’s staff demographics reflect the intake of a generation ago.
Abercrombie-Winstanley testified that her job is to “assure that the best rise to the top because of merit.” However, her method of doing so is to put a bureaucratic, subjective foot on the hiring scale rather than looking to expand equality of opportunity.
Following President Joe Biden’s executive order, all federal agencies have developed “equity action plans,” which almost always involve hiring new chief diversity bureaucrats whose focus is internal and not on the agency’s core mission.
Nearly every State Department bureau and embassy from Armenia to Zambia now has a diversity and inclusion council. According to Diallo, USAID alone now has 50 such councils and 13 diversity and equity advisers, with more in the pipeline.
These numbers demonstrate how the left uses government employment as a jobs program, how agencies are so bloated, and how the left captures so many institutions.
Lowering the Bar
Underlying these plans are the same quasi-Marxist critical race theory principles that inform “equity” in the sense that proponents such as Kendi and Harris define it.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, insists that “Intersectionality matters” and states: “Federal policies, grants, and programs should always account for how people’s multiple identities interact with intersecting systems of oppression.”
America’s diplomats indeed should represent the diversity of the country, but consistent with the merit principle of entry that has been established for a century.
Federal agencies such as the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development shouldn’t be expected to make up for deficiencies in public education by unilaterally lowering or rigging entrance requirements.
The foreign service needs to remain a bastion of equality and meritocracy, not socialist efforts at racial balancing in the pursuit of “equity.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was wise to hold hearings on this important yet divisive topic, but the senators failed in this round to get at the core problem, much less address it.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal