Tillerson Denounces Racism as He Pledges More Diverse Diplomats

(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a push to bring more minorities into the State Department, denouncing racism and hate speech as “antithetical to the American idea” while stopping short of singling out President Donald Trump’s comments on Charlottesville.

Telling student interns and fellows at the State Department that race relations are “a topic that’s on everyone’s mind,” Tillerson said Friday that he’s directing hiring committees to ensure that candidates for every U.S. ambassadorship include at least one minority.

Tillerson Denounces Racism as He Pledges More Diverse Diplomats

It’s an approach similar to the National Football League’s Rooney Rule for hiring head coaches. About 70 percent of U.S. ambassadorships are filled by career foreign-service officers, with the rest going to political appointees named by the president.

In an implicit criticism of his predecessors, Tillerson said the State Department hasn’t done enough to include minorities and women, saying only 12 percent of senior foreign-service officers are minorities and only a third are women. He said the department has a “great diversity gap” and will do more to recruit at historically black and Hispanic schools.

“We have to own this process,” Tillerson said. “That doesn’t mean coming through town and dropping some pamphlets off at the recruiting office.”

Staff Dismay

While Tillerson didn’t mention Trump, his remarks put distance between him and the president’s insistence that there was “blame on both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday. A rally dominated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis culminated with a man driving a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, with one person killed and others injured.

Trump’s comments provoked widespread dismay among State Department staff and prompted some, unwilling to represent the Trump administration overseas, to start looking for jobs elsewhere, according to several department employees who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

“We do not honor nor do we promote or accept hate speech in any form, and those who embrace it poison our public discourse and they damage the very country that they claim to love,” Tillerson said Friday. “So we condemn racism, bigotry in all its forms. Racism is evil, it is antithetical to American values, it’s antithetical to the American idea.”

Recalling his years in business, the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive officer said he appreciated the value of having minorities in leadership positions because they bring different cultural perspectives and “will see things in the world that I cannot see.”

Tillerson closed his remarks with a plea for his young listeners to cherish their personal integrity rather than compromising it.

“You may have a short-term gain out of that but once you relinquish any element of your personal integrity, it is very very difficult to regain it,” he said.