Page 37 - Foreign Service Journal - October, 2012b

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
OCTOBER 2012
37
that dictates where people
go. Assignment is often
based on the interaction of
personalities.” One USAID
ofcer tells us that several
colleagues are enrolled in
training for languages not
spoken in the country to
which they are assigned.
It may be that the intake
of a larger number of new
hires than usual accounts
for some of the recent difculties with the bidding and assign-
ments system at USAID. “Te bidding system over the past
two years has become very disorganized, with last-minute
scrambles to create positions,” says a USAID ofcer serving in
southern Africa. “Some staf fnd it hard to fnd positions that
meet their professional and family needs. I hope this will be
resolved soon, as Human Resources adjusts to the huge infux
of new staf.”
Work-Life Balance
Family concerns (e.g., spouse/partner employment,
children’s education, frequent moves) are a factor for almost
everyone considering the Foreign Service career. We asked
respondents whether they would describe their agency as
“family-friendly.” Overall, a majority at both State and USAID
say yes. But as one cautioned, “family-friendly” is a “loaded
term.” Many explain that it depends on factors that change by
assignment, such as managers, the ambassador and specifc
conditions at post.
Positive assessments center on children and related issues—
but are less so when it comes to spouses and partners. State is
“very family-friendly,” says one FSO without children. “We are
repeatedly told: ‘the State Department loves children.’ And it
does.”
Many respondents point to long hours, but commensurate
opportunities for extra time with family, including travel. A
consular ofcer at a post in Russia says she works “far more
than eight hours a day, and it does make it difcult to spend
enough time with my family. But I compensate by taking short
breaks whenever possible, and we travel together. Fortunately,
there are a lot of holidays that allow long weekends.”
Several respondents say that the increased focus on “expe-
ditionary diplomacy” and unaccompanied tours makes the
Foreign Service less family-friendly. Te number of unac-
companied posts has risen
dramatically over the past
10 years, from about 200 to
more than 1,000 positions,
and this certainly takes a
toll on separated families.
“I believe the State Depart-
ment makes many eforts
to ensure that families are
taken care of and that family
issues are addressed,” says
FSO Salman Khalil. “But I
do feel that unaccompanied tours are very difcult for families.
I can say that from personal experience.”
“Family-friendly is hard to defne and every family is difer-
ent,” says management-track ofcer Jennifer Rizzoli, serving in
Cape Town. “I think there are attempts to meet a defnition of
family-friendly, but that doesn’t mean that your family’s needs
will be met. Also, it’s inconsistent; while one family may have a
great experience at one post, that same family may have a ter-
rible experience at the next one.”
“State’s policies are trying to move in the right direction,
particularly in regard to same-sex partners, opposite-sex
unmarried Members of Household, and nontraditional fam-
ily situations in general,” says State public diplomacy ofcer
Rachael Zaspel from Bridgetown. “However, there is still prog-
ress to be made.”
USAID responses are mixed. One female USAID ofcer
sums it up this way: “I would not describe my agency as family-
friendly. An agency that requires a signifcant percentage of its
work force to serve in unaccompanied, war-zone assignments
by nature will struggle to be family-friendly.”
Respondents who are single tend to describe the agencies as
“too family-friendly,” noting that family considerations for their
colleagues often put them at a disadvantage when it comes
to assignments, housing and time of. One new management
ofcer says, “Yeah, families are taken care of very well; singles,
not so much.” A single female State ofcer at a post in Mexico
speaks for several others when she points out that it is “hard
for single women to fnd a husband; not many men in the U.S.
or world are willing to follow you around. But that’s not really
something State can solve for single women.”
Tandems have certain advantages by sharing the Foreign
Service career (two salaries, ability to work at the same post,
U.S. government support), but also face periods of separation
and no guarantee of being assigned to the same post.
“An agency that requires a
signifcant percentage of
its work force to serve in
unaccompanied, war-zone
assignments by nature will
struggle to be family-friendly.”
—A female USAID ofcer