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JUNE 2015




Working with Affinity Groups to Foster

Diversity Across Foreign Affairs Agencies

How does an employer cul-

tivate a diverse work force?

It’s not an easy task. And if

the employer is the federal

government and the work-

force is spread across all the

six foreign affairs agencies,

the task is that much more


A key factor in address-

ing the diversity challenge

for the Foreign Service lies in

partnerships with employee

affinity groups. These groups

are formed by individuals

with a common interest or

goal and are usually built

around characteristics pro-

tected by equal employment

opportunity regulations,

such as race, gender and

sexual orientation. They are,

however, open to all employ-

ees and not limited to those

of a certain gender, ethnic or

racial background.

Employee affinity pro-

grams originally emerged

during a time when it was

rare to see members of

marginalized groups in senior

positions. For example, one

of the oldest groups was

founded in 1973 by two man-

agement-level U.S. Informa-

tion Agency Foreign Service

officers who saw the need to

address a lack of diversity in

the Foreign Service.

That group would come

to be known as the Thurs-

day Luncheon Group. TLG’s

goal is to focus on outreach

and engagement with State

Department officials in order

to advance long-term career

opportunities for African-

Americans in foreign affairs

in both the Civil and Foreign


Since TLG’s early days,

affinity groups have flour-

ished and are now as varied

as the personnel they serve.

For example, the Presidential

Management Fellows Pro-

gram, which entails a rigor-

ous selection process, caters

to individuals with advanced

degrees seeking to join the

Civil Service.

GLIFAA was initially

formed to challenge a

security clearance process

that discriminated against

lesbian, gay, bisexual and

transgender employees. Two

newer groups, Veterans at

State and the Arab Ameri-

cans in Foreign Affairs Agen-

cies, were founded in 2014

and 2015, respectively.

At a roundtable on

diversity in January (see

“AFSA Convenes Roundtable Discussion on Diversity” in the March AFSA News),

AFSA brainstormed ways to

work collectively with affinity

groups and human resources

offices at State and USAID

to improve recruitment

strategies and retention

and inclusion. “AFSA has a

strong—and growing—rela-

tionship with the various

affinity groups at State and

in the other foreign affairs

agencies,” says AFSA Presi-

dent Robert J. Silverman. “We

appreciate the opportunity to

interact with them, as we did

in our recent affinity group

roundtable. It is one of the

best mechanisms we have

to hear about issues that

impact our members.”

The meeting was also an

opportunity to discuss the

State Department’s Manage-

ment Directive 715 Equal

Employment Opportunity

Program Status Report,

which provides statistical

data on the department’s

diversity and inclusion

efforts, including identifica-

tion of workforce develop-

ment barriers. AFSA has

identified several concerns,

both in process and sub-

stance, regarding the MD-715.

Not surprisingly, almost

half of the affinity groups

AFSA spoke with were

founded after 2000, reflect-

ing an increase in the diver-

sity of the Foreign Service’s

workforce and the continued

need to address institutional


AFSA has taken on the

challenge of promoting

diversity within the Service

by incorporating an explicit

diversity objective in its stra-

tegic plan. It has also been

working closely with agency

leadership and Congress

on several diversity-specific

provisions in the current

Department of State reau-

thorization process.

Affinity groups and AFSA

agree: diversity is good

for business and good for

morale. When individuals

from different backgrounds,

perspectives and experi-

ences come together, they

are able to collaborate in new

ways to come up with innova-

tive solutions to challenges

faced by the Foreign Service

and our country in the 21st



—Lindsey Botts,

Labor Management

Executive Assistant

AFSA hosts a roundtable for affinity group representatives on January 15..