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Why are women and minorities historically underrepresented in the Foreign Service?

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yoonji’s Answer

That is a fantastic question, Rhoda! I studied international affairs in undergrad and grad school and have been wondering that myself. I recently attended a webinar on this subject. There are a lot of different reasons. I'll add a few more from what I've heard from the presentation.

- Lack of exposure: It's hard to be what you can't see. As Katie mentioned, there historically have not been a lot of minorities in these fields (although it has gotten better in the last few years). There are also
- Financial access: A lot of times the desire to serve in the State Department comes from amazing experiences abroad, such as meeting new people, learning new languages and cultures, and explore the beautiful scenery. It can be expensive to study and travel abroad and there aren't as many scholarships as there should be to make sure students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to study abroad.
- Lifestyle: Some people aren't interested in living abroad and moving every few years, sometimes into countries that have instability. I can see that for especially women and men who want to have families and be near them. Definitely something to think about!

Hope this helps shed some insights into why there is less representation of women and minorities in the Foreign Service.

HOWEVER, I will say that the US government and non-profits have done a lot more to diversify the field and the State Department in recent years. There are some developments like critical language scholarships (e.g. Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships program) to expanding access for students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad like the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. These are fantastic opportunities but there is still has tons of room to boost diversity and inclusion in the diplomacy field.

PS- There are a lot of different ways to get involved in diplomacy beyond the State Department! Consider working for organizations promoting public and citizen diplomacy (like organizations within the Global Ties U.S. network), hosting/befriending an international exchange student, and others!

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Sam’s Answer

Throughout American history, minority groups have been systemically oppressed in ways such as not having the same access to jobs/financial opportunities. While the U.S. has been incrementally improving its unequal standards, minority groups will continue to be underrepresented in Foreign Service simply because they do not have the same access. It's not just about "working hard" to get there. It's about recognizing the implicit biases that exist within our institutions and why that means some demographics might be favored over others for job positions. Hopefully, with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice training, these social problems can continue to be corrected.

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Katie’s Answer

I can't answer why, but I'll try to share some of what they are doing to help. Historically like many government institutions only white men were allowed, when women began serving they only could serve if they were unmarried. The Department is trying to correct that these days by actively recruiting minorities and women. They still aren't where they should be or where lots of people want them to be, but they are trying. I think part of it is that a lot of people don't know about them. I can say when I first starting working at State and I would tell people they would ask me which state. That is the first problem, most people don't know what the State Department has to do with the rest of America and think of it as a Washington elite. I think in the past a lot of people that did the recruiting also only went to the same places and targeted the same people. I'm not sure if they are doing a better job at that or not and I don't think it is my place to judge that, but I know a lot of good people that work there that think that diversity is needed and will only make the department stronger. I'm not sure that this helps much, but here are some resources for you to understand more about the history of it if you want to do your own research: