“Diversity is critical to our national security.”

We heard this popular refrain again recently, when the State Department explained why it hired Zakiya Carr Johnson, a left-wing ideologue, to serve as its second Diversity and Inclusion chief, with a salary of $180,000. It’s a claim often repeated, so some evidence must exist to support it, right? After all, progressives in media and in office constantly harp on Republicans’ supposed “evidence free” claims. There’s “no evidence,” we’re often told, that the Bidens are corrupt, or that Democrats are using lawfare to derail the Trump campaign, or that the media is biased. Okay. Where’s their proof that diversity makes Americans safer?

I worked for the State Department as a foreign-service officer during the George W. Bush administration. Most of my colleagues were probably Democrats, but it wasn’t an oppressively liberal environment. We weren’t encouraged to share our pronouns or use gender-neutral language. There was no requirement to prove we had “advanced inclusion” to get promoted, as is the case now. The embassies I worked at overseas flew only American flags, not Pride, BLM, or any of the other progressive banners seen flying at embassies in recent years.

Carr Johnson and her predecessor, Gina Abercrombie–Winstanley, likely view my era at the State Department as a dark, unenlightened time. The DEI culture is essential, we’re told, so that organizations like the State Department can “look like America.” I joined the Foreign Service just three months after 9/11, and my entering class of 95 foreign-service officers (FSOs) did look like America. I suspect that my class’s racial composition was close to the Census figures at the time. Nearly half were women, a handful were openly gay, some had disabilities, several were veterans, and perhaps a third or more were nonwhite.

According to the State Department’s most recent figures, from 2021, 15 percent of its employees are black, 7 percent are Asian, 45 percent are female, 8 percent are Hispanic, and 14 percent have disabilities. State’s civil service is more diverse still—55 percent female and 25 percent black.

There’s no evidence that any disparities between the U.S. population and the department’s workforce are attributable to racism, but Abercrombie–Winstanley operated as if there were, perhaps because she believes America is a systemically racist country. Indeed, she once complained that the U.S. was far more racist than the countries in which she has served.

It took the State Department ten months to find Abercrombie–Winstanley’s replacement, and it appears that her successor takes a similarly dim view of our country. Carr Johnson has called America a “failed historic model” with a “colonizing past,” and complained of a “culture of misogyny” in a 2020 webinar. “Because we live and work within systems . . . so deeply rooted in patriarchy and colonialism and racism and otherism,” she said, “we tend to be very resistant to shifts and changes.” The new diversity chief also co-signed a statement with five other feminist leaders that underscored the need to “counter white-centered feminism trends and narratives.”

What sort of DEI schemes will Carr Johnson introduce to bolster America’s national security? Consider some of her predecessor’s initiatives. Abercrombie–Winstanley, for example, believed that half of all foreign-service-exam assessors evaluating potential new hires should be from “underrepresented communities.” To boost minority recruitment, the State Department under her watch scrapped a requirement for candidates to pass a written exam before being hired. She also came up with the idea of requiring all promotion-seeking officers to prove that they had “advanced inclusion.” Tellingly, she also wanted to change the name of the department’s “Equal Employment Opportunity Award” to the “Diversity and Inclusion Award.” Why? Because, she says, the term “equal employment opportunity” doesn’t “get at the affirmative actions necessary to truly support minority officers in rising through the ranks.”

Do such DEI programs enhance national security, as the Yale School of Management, the CEO of Boeing, and the Center for American Progress claim? I asked the State Department for specific examples of how diversity has enhanced American national security. The response was underwhelming. I received a link to a website advertising how people with disabilities are “powering (our) diplomacy.” The site provides brief bios of nine individuals with disabilities who work at State, which is hardly proof that diversity enhances national security because we have no idea if these people are good at their jobs or if they were the best available candidates for their positions.

In 2007, the New York Times reported on research highlighting why increasing diversity within work units may reduce cohesion and productivity. The article, headlined “The downside of diversity,” described the results of a study conducted by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, author of the noted 2000 book, Bowling Alone. It’s impossible to imagine the Times running a story with an opening like this today: “It has become increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger. But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite.”

Putnam, portrayed in the article as “a liberal academic whose own values put him squarely in the pro-diversity camp,” found that “virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.” He chronicled how, in diverse communities, people voted and volunteered less, gave less to charities, and were more reluctant to contribute to community projects.

Unsurprisingly, few academics since 2007 have been willing to damage their careers by pursuing research on the downsides to diversity.

Putnam’s is just one study, and liberals want very much to believe that new data will vindicate their belief that diversity programs serve the national interest. But do any Americans feel more secure today than they did years ago, before such diversity initiatives began? Most Americans understand that national well-being is best served when we simply hire the most capable people, regardless of what they look like. Plenty of my former colleagues agree. Sadly, most know that questioning diversity-related initiatives is a good way to lose your job. And with Carr Johnson on board at State, that is unlikely to change.

Photo: James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next