Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has decided to retain a pair of fellowship programs designed to promote diversity within the ranks of foreign service officers, and a department spokeswoman said Friday that everyone in the building supports the move.
"In talking with some of the foreign service officers in the building — even the white guys, they all said 'we love this! We love this program, we're so pleased that it's staying,'" State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Friday. "So I think, building-wide, I can speak for that, the importance of diversity — kidding aside — but the importance of diversity to the programs here."
Tillerson's commitment to the Pickering and Rangel fellowship programs came into question in June, when graduates of the program were informed that the current State Department hiring freeze would prevent them from receiving the foreign service officer jobs typically available to them. That decision was reversed, and Tillerson's team has elevated diversity as a priority of the reorganization of the State Department's bureaucracy.
"The Pickering and Rangel fellows program is staying; we have a new class that's incoming," Nauert said. "Of course, they were very happy that the program is remaining and we are as well."
The fellowships provide funding to "women, members of minority groups historically underrepresented in the Foreign Service, and students with financial need" who pursue a diplomatic career. However, only about 12 percent of senior American diplomats are "non-white," as Tillerson noted Friday morning.
The State Department is implementing a new rule that "every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate," he announced.
"Now they may not be ready, but we will know where the talent pool is," Tillerson told the fellows during an address at the State Department. "A big part of developing our minority leadership is identifying qualified individuals five and 10 years before they are ready to become senior leaders and managing and developing their careers, as we do others, so that they're undergoing preparations for those senior roles over time. We need to be – we need a more deliberate process to cultivate the abundance of minority talent we already have in the State Department."