But that is changing, Ms. Sherman said.
“Look at this room — we have three women sitting here, one of whom is a woman of color. And one white guy,” she said during a candid moment, motioning to a reporter and two staff members who were sitting nearby, in a meeting room outside her personal office.
She credited both Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken with trying to diversify America’s overwhelmingly white diplomatic corps. And while “all institutions are hard to change,” Ms. Sherman said, “this one is particularly hard because national security and foreign policy haven’t been a place for women, let alone people of color.”
“That’s not the way the world should be,” she said.
Her approach is a rejection of both the swagger that Mike Pompeo, who served as Mr. Trump’s second secretary of state, tried to impose on America’s diplomatic corps, with little success, as well as his ridiculing of multiculturalism.
Yet Ms. Sherman is no pushover, and her no-nonsense attitude has unnerved many in her wake.
“She’s this consummate professional who has a bit of a sharp edge to her, so you knew you had to be well-prepared or you’ll see the door pretty quickly,” said Rose Gottemoeller, a former under secretary of state for arms control and international security, who worked with Ms. Sherman at the State Department during the Obama administration. “She came right back at you with zinger questions.”
Ms. Gottemoeller also recalled Ms. Sherman going out of her way to advise and support a fellow colleague through a daunting health issue. “I really was a bit surprised that she’d gone to those lengths, but to me, that shows her empathy,” said Ms. Gottemoeller, who most recently served three years as the deputy secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Ms. Sherman is as open in dissecting her own disappointments as she is in counseling others about theirs. And while she is the first woman deputy secretary of state — a fact that is “a little ridiculous,” she said, given the position was established in 1972 — this is technically not the first time she has held the job.
In 2014, during the Iran negotiations, she was quietly told she could expect to be nominated for the position after William J. Burns, the current C.I.A. director who was then the State Department’s deputy, retired that year.