With big promises still unfulfilled, State Department’s diversity chief steps down

Former Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley speaks after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) announced she would be the State Department's first diversity officer on April 12, 2021.

Former Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley speaks after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) announced she would be the State Department’s first diversity officer on April 12, 2021.

Former Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley speaks after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) announced she would be the State Department’s first diversity officer on April 12, 2021.

The State Department’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer, retired Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, is leaving her post, Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced Tuesday.

“The only way to ensure that our foreign policy benefits the American people is to recruit and retain a workforce that truly reflects the American people,” Blinken said in a statement. “Thanks to Gina’s leadership, the Department has made significant progress in delivering on our commitment to creating a more inclusive workplace.”

Abercrombie-Winstanley did not respond to requests for comment from HuffPost.

Abercrombie-Winstanley’s appointment in April 2021 drew considerable attention. The powerful agency has long been dominated by a “pale, masculine, and Yale” ethos that excluded historically marginalized people, like women and people of color, and tolerated harassment and discrimination in the workplace with few options to hold the line. perpetrators responsible. President Joe Biden and Blinken have repeatedly promised to prioritize work on diversity, with Blinken telling Congress he sees the issue as a barometer by which to measure his success as secretary.

But change has been slow, and procedures for reporting abuse remain byzantine and non-existent, several current and former State Department officials told HuffPost earlier this year. In one case, a Biden nominee for a top State Department job is facing a sexual harassment accusation that congressional staff believe the department failed to investigate properly — but HuffPost found that the State Department had no plan to address their concerns.

Reacting to news of Abercrombie-Winstanley’s departure, a US official said his appointment had ultimately been “a box-checking exercise”.

“It was a missed opportunity because a lot of the changes were performative and didn’t go to the heart of structural reform,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The departing diversity officer ‘did everything she wasn’t supposed to do according to her own report,’ a State Department official said, referring to a report produced by a group task force Truman Center for National Policy think tank that Abercrombie-Winstanley co-chaired. She “just became a talking head without substance. It allowed people to not do the real work.

The official requested anonymity for fear of professional repercussions.

Some 44% of State Department personnel have experienced discrimination, harassment or bullying on the job, according to an unpublished employee survey conducted last year and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Most members of this group said they did not report the issue for fear of retaliation or because they did not believe there would be consequences.

Meanwhile, lawmakers and advocacy groups repeatedly sounded the alarm over the past year about Fritz Berggren, a diplomat who runs an anti-Semitic website. In April, the department told Jewish Insider he still employed Berggren.

In her first major media interview in her role, Abercrombie-Winstanley told HuffPost that she anticipates an uphill battle but is serious about reform — and the process could get ugly.

Traditionally, the agency asked staff to “put their heads in the sand, ask employees to suffer and… aspire,” she noted.

“Everything ahead of us is tough,” Abercrombie-Winstanley said. She added that she hoped to “be out of a job soon”.

Despite Biden’s emphasis on improving diversity in national security agencies, many observers have soured on his approach. “We were just political props for this administration,” a Biden appointee in contact with a group of disgruntled employees in those departments told HuffPost recently.

This is a developing story. Please check for updates.

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