Diplomacy | Germany

“The role models are missing”

German ambassadors are mostly white and male. The up-and-coming diplomat, Tiaji Sio, explains why this has to change 

A portrait of a young black woman. She wears a trench coat, large round earrings and smiles into the camera.

Tiaji Sio works for the German foreign office. In 2020 she was voted by Forbes magazine as one of the most successful people under 30 in Germany

Ms Sio, you’re currently employed at the German embassy in Hanoi. How did you find your way into the Foreign Office?

At school, I started to become interested in foreign politics, got involved in the European Youth Parliament and took part in United Nations simulations. After my A-levels, I applied for a job at the Foreign Office and now I work in the Department of Economics and Development Assistance in Vietnam. At the Foreign Office, most employees are all-rounders and change division every few years. I love this flexibility.

In 2019, you founded the network “Diplomats of Colour”. How did that come about?

I’m from Frankfurt am Main, which is a very international city. When I worked at the Foreign Office, I was surprised by how many of the diplomats shared the same background, especially those in leadership positions. What’s more, there are remarkably few women in this field. Only 23 percent of all German embassies and consulate generals worldwide are headed by female colleagues. In Canada, the USA, Great Britain and France, there is more diversity at the executive level. Even Poland has a Black* ambassador. By contrast, there isn’t even one German consul general of Turkish origin. That’s why I joined forces with Black and PoC colleagues, both male and female. The “Diplomats of Colour” group quickly grew to 150 members.

What are your goals?

We are the first network of employees on a federal ministry level to deal with the representation of people with a history of migration. We would like the world’s diversity to be reflected in the ministries. It could also be enshrined in legal terms such as in a diversity law.

How did the Foreign Office react?

There was a great deal of support from the political leadership of the ministries. Diversity, especially in foreign politics, is a hot topic. The Foreign Office will benefit from ensuring that various perspectives from our pluralist society are represented in international cooperations.

In 2014, the Foreign Office signed the Diversity Charter. Is this a step in the right direction?

The Diversity Charter is an important step, but political commitments must be followed by concrete measures. A recent employee questionnaire by the Federal Institute for Population Research showed that only twelve percent of all employees in the civil service have a migrant background. In the German population, the figure is twenty-six percent. Since the Black Lives Matter protests, the terrorist attacks in Halle and Hanau, and the current scourse on racism, there is a growing awareness that underrepresentation is based on structural mechanisms. That’s why something has to be done in the civil service. Politics and governance have to be there for everyone.

Why is the staff at the Foreign Office so homogenous?

The role models are missing, so many People of Colour do not even consider a career in the Foreign Office in the first place. The staff recruitment system and selection procedures also need to be examined for fairness. Does a white person with an academic background have a greater chance of answering questions at an assessment centre correctly? What about structural barriers to promotion? All this should be scrutinised.

What advice do you give young people from diverse backgrounds who are interested in foreign politics?

Apply! The Foreign Office is an international showcase for the German federal government. It’s high time we showed what a diverse society we are.

Interview by Gundula Haage