U.S. State Department names former ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley as first chief diversity officer

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to Malta Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley addresses participants during a gay pride parade organised by the Malta Gay Rights Movement in Sliema, outside Valletta, June 30, 2012. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday named Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley as the State Department’s first chief diversity officer, a position created to make the U.S. diplomatic corps more representative.

The appointment is part of the Biden administration’s efforts to put diversity, equity and racial justice at the top of the national agenda after nationwide protests against police brutality and racial bias last year.

Introducing Abercrombie-Winstanley, Blinken said the department and the country were at a “moment of reckoning” on racial equality, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement and attacks against Asian-Americans.

Abercrombie-Winstanley, a career diplomat since 1985 who served as U.S. ambassador to Malta, will report directly to Blinken, he said.

Promoting diversity inclusion was the job of every department official, but the new officer would hold department leadership accountable on that score, Blinken said.

The lack of diversity at the highest levels of the department was “alarming,” he added, but could be traced through its history and seen in the portraits of former secretaries that line the corridor to his office.

“It’s hard not to notice that almost every one of the secretaries along the hallway is a white man,” Blinken said.

With 76,000 employees globally, racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented at the department, particularly in senior ranks, according to an independent federal watchdog report released last year. Abercrombie-Winstanley is Black.

“The truth is this problem is as old as the department itself. It’s systemic,” Blinken said. “It goes deeper than any one institution or any one administration, and it’s perpetuated by policies, practices and people to this day.”

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon LewisEditing by Chris Reese and Angus MacSwan