Hispanic American Heritage Month: Meet the New Leader of the DSS Diversity Working Group

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DSS Diversity Working Group Leader Damaris Garcia at Stockholm Pride Parade, August 2012
DSS Diversity Working Group Leader Damaris Garcia at Stockholm Pride Parade, August 2012

Hispanic American Heritage Month: Meet the New Leader of the DSS Diversity Working Group

Security Engineering Officer Damaris Garcia grew up in rural Puerto Rico surrounded by mountains and a large family. While she always had a knack for mathematics and science, little did Garcia know she would end up leaving her native Caribbean island for a career with the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). Today, Garcia’s Hispanic American roots are evident in day-to-day aspects of her career with the State Department and in her commitment to diversity and inclusion in her new role as co-chair of the DSS Diversity Working Group.

Damaris Garcia (Department of State Photo)

Answering the Call to Public Service

In 1999, Garcia graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, then interned as a student at a pharmaceutical company in the environmental engineering section.  Garcia learned about DSS and positions in security engineering at a university job fair.  

“Working at a large plant made me quickly realize it was not what I wanted to do the rest of my life,” said Garcia.

“The more I learned about DSS, the more fascinated I became. I could imagine myself living and serving overseas. I’ve always volunteered for community service, and the opportunity to be a public servant—keeping people safe and secure—meant there was a higher purpose to the job that attracted me.”

As Garcia advanced in her career with the State Department, she sought more than security engineering responsibilities. She embraced a strong and lifelong commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion.  

“I’ve found that so many different ethnicities and cultures ultimately have the same values:  Family, hard work, and kindness to others are just some that come to mind. I’m proud of where I come from and more than happy to tell everyone and anyone all about Puerto Rico and our people. But if there is something I have learned about people around the world, it’s that we are more alike than different—we just may not allow ourselves to see it.” 

A Lifelong Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

“Diversity and inclusion—the feeling that you belong and are accepted—make for a strong and cohesive workplace. They allow for greater retention of well-trained, professional, and high performing employees. Diversity in recruitment and hiring ensures we are truly attracting the best minds for the job. Diversity is what promotes innovation, new solutions to old problems, and perspectives we haven’t considered. It’s a win-win all around,” said Garcia.

In 2017, Garcia joined the DSS Diversity Working Group and, in August 2018, she became co-chair of the group, serving with fellow co-chair, Special Agent Laura Williams. Garcia noted that the Working Group has only been around for a few years, yet the group is also effecting change across the bureau.

“I want to make sure we build on what previous groups have achieved, keep the conversation going about diversity and inclusion, and create new initiatives. It’s important to me that we infuse new members with energy and the desire to help make our organization better,” said Garcia. She noted that other Department of State bureaus have begun reaching out to DSS to ask about best practices and how they can stand up a similar group. 

U.S. Department of State Hometown Diplomat Damaris Garcia was interviewed about careers at the State Department by a Puerto Rican news television show, August 2009. (Private Collection Photo)

Inclusion--Bringing Everyone to the Table

Continuing to have frank discussions about diversity and inclusion issues, questions and concerns, are key elements to success, Garcia said. She added that she wants to see DSS leadership continue to ask for help from the Diversity Working Group in tackling difficult workplace issues.

“I think it is important to educate all levels of DSS employees about how personal biases may affect our workforce interactions and decisions,” she said. We’ve made a great start in promoting diversity and inclusion, and we just need to keep plugging away.”

Garcia concluded, “There is a perception that inclusion of some groups means exclusion of others. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is enough space at the inclusion table for everyone.”

About the Author: Barbara Gleason serves in the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.