‘We have fallen short’: Navy outlines plan to improve diversity in top ranks

After hundreds of conversations with small groups of sailors across the globe, the Navy released a new plan for diversifying its top ranks, including outreach to Black fraternities and sororities to attract the next generation of officers and pledging greater transparency in promotions.

Every military branch launched a review of their diversity and inclusion challenges in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last summer.

Some Defense Department-wide changes have already been implemented, such as removing photographs of people from promotion posters displayed on bases and inside the Pentagon.

Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who recently became the first Black Defense secretary, has pledged to address diversity and racism issues head-on. In a video he posted days before his confirmation hearing, Austin noted all the times he had been a Black “first” in Army leadership roles.

“It shouldn’t have taken this long for us to get here,” Austin said in a Jan. 12 video. “There should have been someone who preceded me.”

The Navy, as part of its internal review, released findings and recommendations that resulted from the conversations with sailors.

The report found that 62% of the 330,000 service members in the Navy identify as white, and that 77% of officers are white. By comparison, just 18% of service members and 8% of officers are Black.

The review also showed that 6% of service members identified as Asian Americans, who also made up 6% of the officer corps. And 18% of service members and 9% of officers identified their ethnicity as Hispanic.

There are no Black, Hispanic or Asian American admirals or vice admirals, which are the top ranks in the Navy, according to the report.

“We have fallen short in the past by excluding or limiting opportunity for people on the basis of race, sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender or creed,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said in a statement. “We stood up Task Force One Navy to identify inequalities across the force regarding race, ethnicity, gender, age and rank. While some of these changes will be put into play soon, other recommendations will take time. But make no mistake – what we are implementing will no doubt make our Navy better.”

Some of the Navy’s recommendations include:

  • Tap into its own ranks to find sailors who were members of Black fraternities and sororities with STEM connections to begin building a relationship with those groups and send junior officers on temporary duty assignment to historically Black colleges and universities to attract potential future officers.
  • Make it easier for sailors to challenge a performance evaluation if they feel it is unfair or unjustified.
  • Revise how it tests for officer aptitude to take account for complete life experiences and de-emphasize scholastic aptitude tests to “seek and support non-traditional service experiences to bring in fresh perspectives, more diverse skill sets and backgrounds into the Navy’s most senior ranks and in its mid-level civilian leaders.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, greets Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley as he arrive at the Pentagon, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON AP

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Tara Copp is the national military and veterans affairs correspondent for McClatchy. She has reported extensively through the Middle East, Asia and Europe to cover defense policy and its impact on the lives of service members. She was previously the Pentagon bureau chief for Military Times and a senior defense analyst for the U.S. Government Accountability Office. She is the author of the award-winning book “The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story.”

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