WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at this morning’s full Committee hearing entitled “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in U.S. Diplomacy and Development.” Testifying before the Committee were U.S. Department of State Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Gina K. Abercrombie-Winstanley and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Chief Diversity Officer Ms. Neneh Diallo.
“Our premiere American foreign policy institutions must set the bar for others to follow, and harnessing the incredible diversity of the American people—our different points of view, backgrounds, and languages—is crucial to not only our nation’s security, but also our global economic and other interests,” Chairman Menendez said. “This is why I am launching a series of initiatives to advance the diversity legislation, resources, and recruitment pipelines we need to keep our nation competitive in global affairs for years to come. … We must, as diplomat and Nobel laureate Ralph Bunche once said: ‘adhere staunchly to the basic principle that anything less than full equality is not enough.’”
The first Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing expressly dedicated to oversight of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in American diplomatic and development efforts, today’s session follows agencies’ release this week of diversity strategic plans for the Federal workforce as mandated by the White House, as well as the Government of Accountability Office’s (GAO) release of two new reports examining State Department practices to advance workplace diversity and joint efforts with USAID to advance equity and support marginalized groups overseas.
Find a copy of the GAO report: “State Department: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Workplace Diversity and Inclusion” HERE.
Find a copy of the GAO report: “Foreign Assistance: State and USAID Are Taking Actions to Advance Equity Abroad and Mitigate Challenges” HERE.
Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.
“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will come to order.
Let me first thank Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the Department of State, as well as Chief Diversity Officer at USAID, Neneh Diallo, for appearing before our Committee today.
I believe this is the first time the Committee has held a hearing on this topic with senior Department leadership dedicated to the issue.
Our premiere American foreign policy institutions must set the bar for others to follow, and harnessing the incredible diversity of the American people—our different points of view, backgrounds, and languages—is crucial to not only our nation’s security, but also our global economic and other interests.
I have been working on efforts to promote diversity at the State Department and USAID now for more than two decades. And while I’m disappointed to say progress has been slow, I’m pleased to see both of you here today.
Only last year, the head of the American Foreign Service Association said, the State Department ‘was more diverse in 1986—literally—than it is now.’
In the last twenty years there has been a two percent decrease in the proportion of Black employees at the State Department with the majority still in the civil service. Latino numbers have barely budged.
And USAID is no better with six percent of its workforce Latino, while the Latino population of the United States overall is almost nineteen percent.
This year we are commemorating the Pickering programs 30th, Rangel programs 20th, and Payne programs 10th anniversaries – all programs created to increase diversity at our agencies.
But as we commemorate we need to know if these programs are actually accomplishing their goals. I can count on my fingers the number of ambassadors and mission directors who are people of color.
So we’ve got a lot of work to do.
Not fully utilizing the strategic advantage of America’s diverse talent pool to engage our allies and counter our competitors and adversaries on the global stage is a vital error.
Let me just give one example of that. I know some of our colleagues will probably be unhappy about today’s hearing. But the reality is that when I was in China, our chief in China in charge of democracy and human rights programs was a African American who was an active participant in the civil rights struggle.
His personal history, his personal eyewitness accounts of trying to change the course of events in our country were a powerful voice to those in China seeking to create an opportunity for themselves in terms of greater openings for democracy and human rights.
I can recount easily over the course of thirty years of doing foreign policy dozens of moments in different parts of the world where the few people that we have had who come from diverse backgrounds have been able to make a powerful case and serve as a liaison with the people of those countries where we are being represented. That cannot be purchased. That cannot be bought.
And while it is an error in terms of where we have been at, I’m pleased to say this Administration is trying to fix it. It is also one that nations like Russia and China continue to exploit by using their propaganda tools to highlight the gap between our promises and rhetoric when it comes to racial justice and our actions.
They paint us as hypocrites who talk a big game on equality and human rights—the very foundation of democracy—but say we don’t deliver. Our diplomats are on the frontlines of countering their narratives.
We must modernize our diplomacy and development efforts to meet the demands of the twenty-first century.
That means recruiting from all across America – from the cities and coasts of New Jersey to the border towns of Texas and Idaho.
It means cultivating and retaining a diverse workforce that can take advantage of our nation’s technology advances and keep up with other industries.
It means ensuring workstations and foreign mission buildings are accessible for those with disabilities.
And it means committing to increasing morale so that people aren’t leaving mid-career after years of investment in extensive language and diplomatic skills.
So let me be clear—as chief diversity officers you not only have the full weight of the White House and your leadership supporting you.
I want you to know that many of us support you as well – I certainly do.
This is why I am launching a series of initiatives to advance the diversity legislation, resources, and recruitment pipelines we need to keep our nation competitive in global affairs for years to come.
This is also an economic imperative. I often say when I speak to the corporate leadership in our country about diversity not for diversity’s sake but for the bottom line. Study after study shows that more diverse corporate boards and senior executive management means more profitability. And these are studies done by private entities.
Also, as I tell groups – a simple example from the past: Chevrolet found out what diversity means when they tried to sell the Chevy Nova in Latin America. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, when you pronounce ‘Nova’ in Spanish it means it won’t move, it won’t go.
That is a simple example. I don’t care what type of marketing program you have, it is a car that says it’s not going to move, it’s not going to go. It’s not going to sell.
That is just one of many simple examples where – in terms of economics of how to do business and get greater market share for our country – it is incredibly important.
Today, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how they are advancing these goals at their agency.
I also want to know: what is needed to do your jobs effectively? And if you are not getting what you need—I want to know why.
The clock is ticking. It has been a year and half since these efforts began, and I want to see progress.
Finally, to those who might be reticent to support these efforts, I want to point out that one of our other great institutions, the United States military, has long been a place where people of all backgrounds fight alongside each other.
And where they can rise and opportunity will be given including the highest levels of our military.
As a result, our military is the greatest fighting force in the world.
Our diplomatic corps and our development programs should be strengthened in the same way.
We must, as diplomat and Nobel laureate Ralph Bunche once said: ‘adhere staunchly to the basic principle that anything less than full equality is not enough.’
With that let me turn to the Ranking Member for his opening statement.”