The Foreign Service Journal - March 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2018 31 At this time, like no other before in our history, the State Department team needs to work as one to defend our institution and the value of diplomacy. The global #MeToo campaign, cre- ated by social activist Tarana Burke, highlights just how wide- spread sexual assault and harassment are in the workplace, and State is no exception. Our institutional culture has tolerated deep-seated prejudices of many kinds, including against women. The problem of sexual harassment and even assault is persistent; it is real; and it needs to be addressed. We can’t wait any longer to make meaningful change. The “Normal”Work Environment When I took my oath as an officer, the State Department was in the final throes of its decade-long battle to defeat Alison Palmer’s sex discrimination suit through two different appellate courts, a battle the department finally lost in 1985. Mitigation began, including optional sexual harassment training, but the reception was mixed. (In 1986, Palmer filed a class-action lawsuit that wasn’t settled until 2010.) Many thought that the rising numbers of women in the State Department would promote institutional change. I thought so too. But as I progressed in my career, I found that sexual harassment and stereotyping was part of the “normal” work environment. I hoped that competence, good performance and exemplary conduct would challenge the bias ingrained in State’s culture. I corrected colleagues when I could, offered mentoring to others, and tried to be the change I wanted to see in the world. But even as bias and harassment continued, I made no formal complaints. I learned to shrug it off, make a joke and avoid the troublemakers. But I said nothing. In an institution where “corridor reputation” drives assignments and opportunity, the cost of being a troublemaker was high, and the professional consequences grave. I wasn’t alone. In 1992 the State Department released results of a survey on sexual harassment in which 51 percent of the 4,000 American Foreign Service employees who responded described it as “a problem for both males and females.” Thirty-four percent of respondents agreed they would be labeled a “troublemaker” if they reported inappropriate comments, gestures or touching, while 38 percent said they would not report it. Some 18 percent of female and 4 percent of male respondents claimed to have actually experienced harassment at the department. Since then women have made progress both in promotions and influence, in many cases thanks to the support and mentor- ing of both female and male colleagues. Yet when I joined the more than 200 women who signed the November 2017 letter protesting sexual harassment in the national security sector— #metoonatsec—I wasn’t looking backward at my career. I was looking directly at what is happening now in the Department of State. These leading foreign policy experts, academics and practitioners, including 112 former or current State Department colleagues, noted, “We, too, are survivors of sexual harassment, assault and abuse or know others who are.” A Complex Process Part of the problem in dealing with sexual harassment is the fact that the State Department’s disciplinary system is “complex and somewhat disjointed,” as a November 2014 Office of the Three departing first-tour female officers asked to meet with three of us senior women at post. They wanted to know if this first tour was typi- cal of what to expect from a career in the Foreign Service. They asked us if it was appropriate for a married member of the country team to ask junior officers or technical staff out on dates—even if there were no apparent repercussions for saying no. Was the debate at post over whether members of the country team could frequent a local strip joint that was deemed off-limits for military members of the embassy typical? Is it appropriate for a senior member of the country team to engage in a sexual relationship with an adult dependent of a direct subordinate? I have a co-worker who almost every time we interact feels the need to remind me that he thinks we should date because I have “a nice ass”—despite the fact that I made it clear that I am not interested years ago. # # #StateToo #StateToo