Diversity and Service in Diplomacy – A Distinctly American Story

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day we are reminded of the valuable work that has been done over the last few decades to advance civil rights for all American citizens and the importance of service. Both these ideals have had a lasting impact on my career as diversity in diplomacy has become increasingly important to the work of the U.S. Department of State. In 1980 when I joined the foreign service I was the only Asian-American in a class almost 40 new officers. More than 30 years later, I am glad to see the face of the foreign service is becoming more inclusive and representative of the United States.

The face of public service is also getting younger. Today, over 60 percent of Foreign Service officers have fewer than 10 years of service. As today’s increasingly young workforce works to advance U.S. interests, they are learning the tools of the trade against the backdrop of a highly complex security environment. This dynamic is similar to the dilemmas I faced throughout my career, as I led U.S. peace efforts in Eastern Congo, played a key role in the long border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea that threatened regional security, and served as human rights officer in Beijing, China during the tumultuous Tiananmen Square crisis in 1989.

Each Foreign Service officer brings a unique background -- a distinctly American story -- that helps contribute to making the U.S. diplomatic corps one of the most effective and innovative Services in the world.  My story includes Japanese parents who survived World War II, other family members went to relocation camps in the United States, and other family members joined the famed 100th / 442nd Battalion fighting for the U.S. Army in Europe. The story of my family is truly an American story and it shaped my perspective and approach to diplomacy as I served around the world.

In my recent role as senior advisor on personnel reform, I have the opportunity to help highlight the strength that lies in our diversity. I’ve also enjoyed helping develop our Department’s talent to get the most out of our people for the benefit of the Foreign and Civil Service. It has been an honor to underscore the dynamic changes taking place in the State Department and the critical role our employees play on the frontline of diplomacy advancing U.S. national interests on behalf of the American people. This work is more important now, than ever.

Then Acting Assistant Secretary Yamamoto (center) participates in a Facebook Chat on April 25, 2013. [State Department Photo]

I am always amazed how many countries in the world really look at the United States as a beacon for democracy, human rights, and hope. Our growth as a nation –- our continued effort to value inclusion and service --allows our increasingly diverse corps of foreign and civil servants to represent the best of the United States to nations around the world. Going forward it is critical that we share the story of how Foreign Service officers and State Department staff  -- in today’s unprecedented era of global challenges -- are making a profound difference in the lives of people, facing dangers, and bringing hope to future generations.

About the Author: Donald Y. Yamamoto is a member of Senior Foreign Service and currently serves as a senior Vice-President at the National Defense University.

Editor's Note: This entry also appeared on Medium.com.

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Quote from Martin Luther King Jr. National Monument in Washington, DC. [State Department Photo]
January 16, 2017


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