Stephanie Arnold: “A Firm Believer in the Value of EFM Employment”
Stephanie Arnold, former Human Resources Officer (HRO) and Financial Management Officer in Dublin, will receive AAFSW’s 2015 Champions of Career Enhancement for EFMs (CCE-EFM) Award on November 10. The award includes a cash stipend of $750. We interviewed Ms. Arnold by e-mail about her challenges and achievements.
AAFSW: What were some of the obstacles you faced in your efforts to promote EFM employment in Dublin?
Arnold: When I arrived, there were only a handful of EFM positions within the mission and no family members working on the local economy. Hiring managers expressed a preference for local nationals over EFMs because local employees had greater knowledge of the host country, operating environment and local contacts, and would provide much-needed continuity. Local applicants also often had more direct experience in a given field than EFMs. Outside the embassy, while a long-standing bilateral work agreement was in place, its implementation in Ireland was cumbersome and time-consuming. The requirement to have a job offer, paperwork and processing delays put family members of U.S. diplomats at a distinct disadvantage in the competitive local job market.
AAFSW: How did you overcome these barriers?
Arnold: A firm believer in the value of EFM employment, I advocated for it at every turn. Whenever an office expressed the need for a new position or to fill a vacant one, I considered whether it would be well-suited to an EFM and if we had EFMs at post with the desired skill set. When a hiring office told me they wanted to recruit externally or had a preference for a local hire, I tried to work with them to establish whether that was fully justified. We found that while some positions did require deep local knowledge and specialized skills, other positions in a section did not. We were able to agree upon positions that were ideal for EFM employment and targeted recruitment efforts accordingly. Also, whenever sections had short-term or part-time needs, EFMs provided a more flexible and cost-effective option in a high cost labor market with strict local labor laws. I identified opportunities for new positions that I knew had been beneficial EFM roles at other posts. And I was fortunate to be both the HRO and FMO in Dublin, which gave me a clear picture of post’s budget and staffing needs.
AAFSW: Who helped, and how?
Arnold: The three CLOs I worked with during my time in Dublin were all eager to help and were invaluable in identifying the skills different EFMs had and who was interested in what type of employment. I also enlisted the support of my HR staff and Management Officer, telling them I knew we could do better in this regard and that I wanted to make this a priority. The Management Officer proved to be a great ally, talking with his section head counterparts and promoting EFM candidates when vacancies arose, and supporting the creation of new EFM positions within the mission. He also recognized the shortcomings of our bilateral work agreement and the need to apply diplomatic pressure. He was the first to raise our concerns with the Department of Foreign Affairs and eventually took the critical step of asking Protocol and the Office of Foreign Missions to place a hold on the issuance of work permits to spouses of Irish diplomats in the U.S. until the Irish government acquiesced to our demand for reciprocal treatment.
AAFSW: What advice would you give people at other posts, and what other steps can be taken to promote EFM employment?
Arnold: It is essential to have one or more champions of EFM employment at a post in order to create ample opportunities. Without an advocate, I think the default behavior of both hiring managers and local HR offices is to hire locals to fill positions at post. Leadership interest and involvement in the creation of EFM employment opportunities at post is also critical. Post leadership needs to impress upon agencies and section heads the importance of hiring EFMs whenever possible. Management officials need to identify and create positions that are well-suited to EFM employment and utilize the recruitment preferences and hiring mechanisms available to limit certain opportunities to EFMs. Posts should also take full advantage of EPAP, Consular Associate and other professional track programs available to EFMs in addition to positions already available at post. And posts should examine the status of the bilateral work agreement and see if improvements in its implementation can be made or if a new bilateral work agreement needs to be pursued to make opportunities available for employment on the local economy. And I know efforts at the highest levels of the Department are already underway, but a solution to the EFM security clearance predicament has to be found. EFMs can easily spend half of their spouse’s assignment searching for a job and then waiting for a security clearance before they can work. The situation is even more dire for foreign-born spouses, who make up a significant proportion of the EFM population and frequently wait even longer for security clearances even when they’ve held one in the past. The Department must find a way to make EFM security clearances more streamlined and portable.
AAFSW: What achievement gives you the most satisfaction, and why?
Arnold: The most significant breakthrough was convincing the Irish government to grant blanket work permits to EFMs of American diplomats immediately upon arrival and accreditation in country, in the full spirit of reciprocity and as originally envisioned from the outset of the bilateral work agreement 17 years prior. While spouses of Irish diplomats in the U.S. enjoyed this from the start, the previously cumbersome and bureaucratic process on the Irish side kept most spouses of U.S. diplomats out of the local labor market.I was also thrilled to see EFM employment within the mission increase from four positions to thirteen by the end of my assignment. New positions designed for EFMs were created during my tenure (including an EPAP Economics Associate, an RSO Secretary and a Residential Security Coordinator) while other positions in sections across the mission that were well-suited to EFM employment were earmarked and filled by EFMs whenever possible. In the end, every EFM who wanted to work in Dublin had the opportunity, and that was the ultimate goal.