Legislation to build diversity at the Department through recruitment, retention, and promotion strategies; address and apologize for the Department’s and Congress’ role in the “Lavender Scare”; direct the Department to thoroughly report, document, and investigate sexual harassment and assault claims by employees
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today led the entire Democratic bench of the Foreign Relations Committee in introducing the Department of State Inclusivity Act of 2021, new legislation to assess and bolster the State Department’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. By requiring the Department to develop and strengthen recruitment, retention, and promotion strategies and mechanisms to grow a more diverse workforce, including through the establishment of the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer and the expansion of existing diversity initiatives, the legislation seeks to confront and rectify the Department’s well-documented shortcomings in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“The State Department’s long history of failure to cultivate a professional environment that empowers underrepresented and minority employees and celebrates the diversity of its workforce is entirely unacceptable. As I have said many times, diversity within the ranks of the State Department, at all levels, is both a moral and national security imperative, and the diversity of the American people is our greatest source of strength – we simply cannot afford to lead with anything less than that. To fully represent the broad and rich array of backgrounds of all Americans and to champion core American values abroad are of the utmost importance,” Chairman Menendez said. “Should the U.S. hope to continue to command positions of leadership on the world stage with legitimacy and to amplify the voices of those demanding important change, we must ensure that the doors of our national security bureaucracy are open to all who wish to serve, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, creed, or other historically underrepresented status. As the first Latino SFRC Chairman and as the highest ranking Latino in Congress, I am immensely proud to unveil this critical legislation in recognition of the fact that our ability to conduct robust diplomacy and project democratic ideals abroad is grounded in our championship of diversity, equity, and inclusion at home.”
Joining Chairman Menendez in cosponsoring the legislation were Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
“Ensuring that State Department personnel reflect the diversity of the United States is important to U.S. diplomatic efforts and solidifying U.S. global leadership. To ensure this, it is essential to reverse the many barriers that have historically prevented Americans from minority groups from serving their country,” said Senator Booker. “This common-sense legislation will help develop strategies that will improve the Department’s recruitment and retention policies to build a more diverse workforce. It also helps create a safer workplace by establishing important mechanisms to strengthen the State Department’s ability to investigate sexual assault and harassment claims made by State Department employees, and to hold those who engage in such activity to account.”
“A strong State Department is crucial to our efforts to maintain and advance American diplomacy around the world. And key to a strong foreign policy is putting America’s full potential to work by ensuring that the State Department team reflects the rich diversity and full talents of the American people. This legislation aims to do just that by helping to ensure the State Department better reflects a portrait of America and by strengthening retention and promotion strategies that foster equity and inclusion throughout the State Department’s ranks,” said Senator Van Hollen.
“Our diplomatic corps exists to represent the U.S. overseas, and that representation should reflect the diversity of our nation. This bill aims to help the State Department become a true mirror of our society,” said Senator Shaheen. “I am also pleased that this legislation includes provisions to enact a stronger policy against sexual assault and harassment, which should not be tolerated at any level of government. I’ll continue to prioritize legislation that strengthens our diplomatic corps and invests in diversity initiatives to increase representation throughout our security structures.”
“I’m proud to co-sponsor the State Department Inclusivity Act of 2021, which will modernize the State Department’s diversity and inclusion policies in support of the women and men who represent America abroad. This bill will help ensure America’s diplomatic corps represents the rich diversity of the American people. Drawing on a fuller range of backgrounds will result in stronger, smarter, more innovative policy outcomes for U.S. interests,” said Senator Kaine.
“As Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, I am proud to support this bill which calls for a comprehensive plan to improve the State Department’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion in an effort to increase recruitment and retention of under-represented groups,” said Senator Cardin. “Our bill will help to move the Department of State into the 21st century, and will also rectify some wrongs from the past, exonerating at least 1,000 people who were wrongfully dismissed for alleged homosexuality during the 1950s and well into the 1960s.”
“Americans who wish to serve their country should never be faced with obstacles or discriminated against because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or native language,” said Senator Merkley. “We should celebrate those who pursue a life of public service and ensure that these opportunities and the chance to rise to the highest levels are available to everyone. The Department of State Inclusivity Act of 2021 is an important step in the right direction to review and foster the Department’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.”
“I’m proud to co-sponsor this bill to ensure that our diplomatic corps fully represent the diversity of our country at posts all around the world,” said Senator Markey. “Passage of this legislation will also help us reckon with the wrongs of the ‘Lavender Scare’ that saw the lives of State Department employees upended simply for who they loved or how they identified, and it will put into place protections to help stamp out the scourge of sexual harassment.”
“I am proud to co-sponsor this important legislation with my Senate colleagues,” said Senator Coons. “America’s diplomats should reflect the great diversity of our country. Indeed, one of the many strengths of the State Department lies in the unique perspectives and backgrounds of those dedicated public servants within the agency. This bill would make sure our diplomats work in an environment free from discrimination and harassment. It would expand the department’s diversity initiatives and strengthen the recruitment and retention of a workforce representing all of American society. This bill will help create a State Department that more effectively advances American interests and values at home and abroad.”
“American diplomats representing our interests and values abroad should reflect our diversity at home. It’s past time we modernize the State Department, and this bill will help us build an even stronger diplomatic corps inclusive of communities which have historically been shut out of these rooms,” said Senator Murphy.
In addition to recognizing the Department’s and Congress’ involvement in the “Lavender Scare,” the Department of State Inclusivity Act of 2021 establishes a Reconciliation Board to review grievances of former employees who were wrongfully terminated due to their alleged sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill also directs the Department to rigorously report, document, and investigate sexual harassment and assault claims made by employees, and to create a permanent exhibit on the “Lavender Scare” at the National Museum of American Diplomacy, expanding upon Senator Menendez’s 2021 letter pressing for the memorialization of the wrongful dismissal of at least 1,000 State Department personnel in the 1950s and 1960s due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Building on Chairman Menendez’s 2020 introduction of the Federal Jobs Act, which requires the development and implementation of a government-wide initiative to promote, expand, and retain diverse talent across the federal workforce, the new legislation serves as a continuation of Senator Menendez’s various oversight efforts to address the diversity at the Department, including his State Department Inclusivity Act of 2020, Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act, or LOVE Act, and 2020 SFRC Democratic Staff report revealing that Department employees felt senior leadership did not foster or embrace diverse teams, which, coupled with the Trump administration’s belittling and damaging responses to racial injustice, contributed to a historic plummet in staff morale.
In 2020, Senator Menendez also requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study to examine the demographic composition of the State Department’s workforce, differences in promotion outcomes for various groups within the workforce, and the extent to which the Department has identified barriers to diversity in its workforce. The GAO report notably highlighted critical retention issues, continued underrepresentation, and a significant dearth of minority-identifying individuals and women in leadership positions.
Find a copy of the legislation HERE.
Find a section-by-section summary of the legislation HERE.