189. Memorandum From the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Personnel (Laise) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management (Moose)1


  • Impact of the FSO Written Examination on Women and Minorities

Entrance into the FSO Corps (and ignoring special programs) is a multi-stage process, involving a three-part written examination, an oral examination, medical and security clearances, and a final review before placement on a register for possible offer of appointment. One stage of that process, the written examination, has a clear-cut, heavy, and negative impact on the numbers of women and minorities who succeed in becoming Foreign Service Officers. We have been aware of this phenomenum for several years and have tried various devices to correct it but so far without great success.

—In recent years, the written examination has rejected a high proportion of women (see statistics at Tab 1).

—Men and women pass the combined general background and English expression tests at about the same rate, but women fail the functional part of the written out of all proportion to their representation in the total pool of test takers.

—The female rejection rate in the functional examination worsened when the Department moved from a single-cone functional test to a four-cone functional test in 1975.

—Because of our concern at the low pass rate for women, but also because of our desire to place greater emphasis on the importance of English expression, we changed the relative weights for the combined general background and English expression (the average combined score being the first cut between passers and failers) from 50:50 in 1975 to 40:60 in 1976. The change in weighting brings more women through the first cut because they tend to do better on the English expression than on the general background.

—The Educational Testing Service (ETS has been our contractor for recent written examinations) has made item analyses of the 1975 and 1976 functional examinations to ferret out evidence of sex bias in the questions, but detected no such pattern.

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—The written examination presumably has the same impact on minorities, but for legal reasons we have no reliable statistics. M/EEO checks the names of minorities it has recruited to take the test against the list of passers; few pass. BEX keeps track, informally, of minorities who appear for an oral examination; they number a handful. We suspect that the written examination has an even heavier negative impact on minorities than on women.

The imperatives governing employment selection examinations require that they be relevant to the job, and based on an empirical, construct, or content validity model. The examinations must also be non-discriminatory. None of these requirements can be ignored. To scrap the functional part of the FSO written examination because it screens out women and minorities in unacceptably high numbers would risk repudiating the job-relatedness of the examination. We are seeking a means of solving these difficulties or at least mitigating them in our contract negotiations for the 1977 examination. We should shortly be ready to sign a contract with the bid winner (either ETS or Advanced Research Resources Organization). At that point we plan to bring together representatives from the different offices in PER, M/EEO (and a representative of the Task,2 if you wish), and the bid winner to discuss the contract. We will review means to eliminate or diminish the negative impact of the written examination on women and minorities. We will be utilizing the McBer job analysis results3 to examine a modification of the functional test that would retain job relatedness but reduce the rejection rate for women and minorities.

Our best efforts to turn the written examination into a neutral screen as to sex and race may not work. Until more women and minorities move in larger numbers away from educational concentration in fields that lead clearly to jobs (education, social work, technical specialties, and more recently law and medicine) into those fields of study that best prepare people for the Foreign Service (political science, international affairs, economics), they will probably continue to fail the written examination in disproportionate numbers.

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Tab 1

Table Prepared in the Bureau of Personnel4

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Total Men Women % Women
December 1971 Exam
Applications 14,986 11,889 3,097 21%
Took Written 8,680 6,856 1,824 21%
Passed Written 1,322 1,096 226 17%
(15%) (16%) (12%)
Took Oral 946 797 149 16%
Passed Oral 231 198 33 14%
(24%) (25%) (22%)
December 1972 Exam
Applications 12,020 9,364 2,656 22%
Took Written 7,469 5,827 1,642 22%
Passed Written 1,251 1,023 228 18%
(17%) (18%) (14%)
Took Oral 770 626 144 19%
Passed Oral 237 189 48 20%
(31%) (30%) (33%)
December 1973 Exam
Applications 14,311 10,997 3,314 23%
Took Written 9,330 7,213 2,117 23%
Passed Written 1,339 1,097 242 18%
(14%) (15%) (11%)
Took Oral 910 751 159 17%
Passed Oral 400 344 56 14%
(44%) (46%) (35%)
December 1974 Exam
Applications 15,318 11,150 4,168 27%
Took Written 9,799 7,243 2,556 26%
Passed Written 1,525 1,258 267 18%
(16%) (17%) (10%)
Took Oral 1,086 894 195 18%
Passed Oral 371 306 67 18%
(34%) (34%) (34%)
December 1975 Exam
Applications 20,807 14,660 6,147 30%
Took Written 13,744 9,883 3,861 28%
Passed Written 1,508 1,357 161 11%
(11%) (14%) (4%)
Took Oral 1,075 949 126 12%
Passed Oral 320 279 41 13%
(30%) (29%) (33%)
December 1976 Exam
Applications 18,760 13,486 5,274 28%
Took Written 11,814 8,673 3,141 27%
Passed Written 1,729 1,511 218 13%
(13%) (17%) (7%)
Took Oral
Passed Oral
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1977–1978, Box 1, Chron April 1977. No classification marking.
  2. Reference to the Secretary’s Task Force on Affirmative Action.
  3. Not found.
  4. No classification marking. Drafted by Susan L. Kachigian on March 28. Source: REE/BEX.