Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
January 12, 2018
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, again, thank you for joining us this morning for a few minutes. And Happy New Year to all of you. I don’t know I’ve had the chance to see many of you in the new year, and I hope you had a really wonderful, restful holiday and got to spend some time with those that are most important to you. And again, thank you for being with me this morning.
Values matter. That’s what I want to talk about. Most particularly, our shared values matter. Our values as a nation bind us together and define who we are to the rest of the world, but most importantly, they define who we are to one another. And in every organization, shared values are the threads that knit the diverse groups of individuals with diverse talents and diverse responsibilities into the fabric of an effective and successful organization. Our values define what we expect from one another and from the – and form the foundation of trust that creates the conditions for us to work together with success, with satisfaction, and yes, even joy.
Almost a year ago today – not quite – I stood before you and introduced myself to you as the new guy. I talked about several crucial values, like keeping each other safe, being honest with one another, holding ourselves and each other accountable, and treating each other with respect. And today I want to talk about respect.
Respect for each other and respect for individual liberty is at the very heart of what we here at the State Department do. It’s at the heart of what we believe as Americans. The United States is the great experiment in democracy, but what distinguishes our country from others is that since our founding, we have openly recognized our imperfections and we strive to overcome them.
It was the Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson who wrote that we are all endowed with certain unalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But that promise was not fulfilled the moment those words were written. America at its birth was far from perfect, and we’re still an imperfect nation. But the American people have never lost sight of our aspirational values of equality and liberty for all. We fought the Revolutionary War because this idea of individual liberty and personal freedom is so precious. We fought a civil war to keep our country together and to preserve and build upon this idea of individual liberty for everyone. We fought for suffrage for women and all men, regardless of your background, the property you own, your gender. And Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate on Monday, among others, carried this vision further to secure the rights for those who were deprived them.
The story of our nation is one of constant, often demanding journey to realize our shortcomings in order to live up to our founding principles. But we not only recognize our shortcomings; we do something about them. Because of our democratic society and the way we cherish individual liberty and respect for others, we can freely talk about our imperfections, and we can make progress.
What makes our country great is that we are constantly striving to achieve our aspirations. This process includes each of us as individuals working on our own self-improvement, recognizing our lives are enriched when we embrace the diversity within our nation and within the ranks of our own colleagues here at the State Department. By respecting our differences of life experiences and culture, we set ourselves on a path of personal growth which then allows us to grow as an organization. We can shine a light on where we need to improve, plot a course, and sail forward. And along the way, our North Star is this idea of respect for one another.
But where people are disrespected and their freedoms denied, we always find incidents of harassment. Harassment, in all its many forms, demeans individuals and always violates respect. No form of harassment is more demeaning than sexual harassment. Whether it is subtle innuendo or unwanted touching or sexual advances, harassment can interrupt and change the course of a person’s personal pursuit of happiness. It robs people of joy. And for some, it diminishes their own confidence in themselves for a bright future. Harassment and abuse have no place in a nation founded on the ideals of individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and it can have no place in this organization, our State Department. (Applause.) Not here in Washington, not at post abroad. Nowhere. I cannot and I will not tolerate it. It will not be tolerated. It’s not just illegal, it’s wrong. It’s wrong, and the effects of such behavior are often far-reaching and devastating.
Respecting the fundamental dignity of every human being is integral to the success of our people, our nation, and our diplomatic work here and abroad. Our vision is to promote democratic values and to demonstrate those and to advance a free, peaceful, and prosperous world. We deal with human tragedy on a global scale every day. The men and women of this institution serve in dangerous, difficult, and heart-wrenching places to bring help and healing to a broken world. It is our honor and our duty to do so, and it’s never easy. We must create and nurture a deep well of trust and respect among our own State Department family that we can draw upon if we are to rise to these challenges.
Every day, we aspire to help people around the world understand and apply this foundational ideal that we respect others simply because they are fellow human beings. But when harassment takes place in our community, in our own organization, in our workplace family, among our colleagues, our message of respect is tainted. If we want to create a world free from harassment and free from the powerful taking advantage over the less powerful, we have to start in our own family.
Let me speak to anyone in a supervisory position for a moment. You’re responsible for those you lead and to each other, from the assistant secretaries to the heads of a two-person IT section in the field. As part of our leadership team, you have an obligation first to live up to these principles, to be the daily role models in our workplace. Failing to do so, to disrespect others, is to relinquish your legitimacy as a leader. And second, you are responsible for holding your people and those around you accountable. We are to protect victims, not victimizers. Do not minimize this violation of respect. You set the tone. Ensure you’re setting it well.
This isn’t just about reporting an incident, although that is clearly important. It is about the character of our comments, the intent behind our contact. It’s about making sure no one is disempowered or devalued, and importantly, that no one suffers from retaliation for rejecting any form of sexual harassment or unwanted advance. We judge people on their contributions to our mission and their adherence to the values of the State Department. We hold you accountable for that as well. We must look out for each other. When we know someone is not conducting themselves according to our values, we have to take action, remind them about the importance of respect, speak up. And if someone witnesses an act of harassment, each of us has a responsibility to bring it to an end and hold the perpetrator to account.
Let me now speak to anyone who has been a victim. Please know that the State Department has resources for you. Please take advantage of them. The Office of Civil Rights led by Greg Smith has a simple online form to report an incident. The department will employ rigorous processes to investigate, evaluate, and resolve it. Victims who submit a report will never face retaliation. (Applause.) Yesterday the deputy secretary spoke at an event hosted by the Office of Civil Rights. The seminar provided an overview of the department’s anti-harassment policies to remind and educate employees about how we can create a safer environment. You can also call OCR’s office and speak to an attorney advisor if you have any questions or concerns. That number is 202-647-9295 and can also be found online at socr.state.sbu/ocr. Please reach out to them. They’re here to help you.
Finally, if this is happening to you – and I cannot stress this enough – please go to a supervisor, any supervisor. Go to any member of our senior leadership team. They’re seated behind me on this stage, and they are dedicated and committed to setting these issues to rest. They join me here. They’re here to help you.
This conversation’s not going to end here this morning. All American employees worldwide will receive anti-harassment training in the next 90 days, and all employees, including locally employed staff, will receive training by June the 1st.
We each have a role to play, and it begins by looking out for ourselves and for each other. Values matter. They matter to me, and I know they matter to you.
So I hope you have a nice weekend. I hope you take time to honor the memory of Dr. King and what he stood for, and thank all of you for your kind attention. (Applause.)