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The Navy must capitalize on mentorship, advocacy and accountability to counter inequality and bias in the ranks, according to the initial report of Task Force One Navy, released Feb. 3.
“As a Navy — uniform and civilian, active and reserve — we cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and must engage in open and honest conversations with each other and take action,” said Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, in a statement. “That is why we stood up ‘Task Force One Navy’ — to identify and remove racial barriers, improve inclusion efforts, create new opportunities for professional development, and eliminate obstacles to enter the Navy.”
“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,” Gilday said.
Simply put, all Sailors — uniformed and civilian — and applicants for accession to the Navy must be treated with dignity and respect above all else.”
Following the death of George Floyd, a Black man prosecutors say was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer while in custody in May 2020, and the national unrest that soon followed, service leaders established Task Force One Navy to address systemic racism within the service, evaluate racial disparities in the military justice system, and examine the fairness of the promotion and advancement process to eliminate “destructive biases.”
The report’s 57 recommendations reflect the culmination of nearly 300 listening sessions with active-duty and reserve sailors, along with almost 1,000 online surveys.
“Every listening session had the same key themes: respect, empathy, training, skepticism,” Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey, the director of the task force, told reporters Feb. 1.
The report’s recommendations are broken down into several “lines of effort”: recruiting’ talent management and retention; professional development; innovation and STEM; and several additional recommendations. A flag officer has been tapped to oversee progress in each area.
The proposals for getting there range from the very basic, such as modifying the Navy’s core values, to the systematic, such as establishing mentoring programs and using artificial intelligence in the selection board process to reduce potential bias.
“Our recommendations have been well-vetted, key initiatives red-teamed and the temporal aspect of when to act considered.
“The recommendations might not all be right, but they are recommendations, nonetheless. Recommendations were developed that recognize some systemic inequalities and offer solutions to help our Navy become a more lethal and well-connected warfighting force.”
Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr., the Navy’s chief of personnel, warned that any failure to recruit and retain a diverse group of sailors not only will cause ongoing problems but will also become an issue 20 to 30 years down the road when it’s time to promote officers to senior positions.
“Here’s what we know about inclusion and diversity in the Navy,” said Nowell, who is also the Navy’s chief inclusion and diversity officer. “One, you need to bring more diversity in the front door. And two, we need to make sure that we keep that diversity.”
The report pitches multiple strategies to attract sailors from a variety of backgrounds, including modifying marketing and advertising strategies for Generation Z minorities — which the Pew Research Center defines as those born in 1997 or after. Another idea floated is to craft a “whole person” evaluation blueprint that avoids relying too heavily on standardized tests, and instead focuses on character and other leadership attributes.
Likewise, the report advises potentially nixing the Officer Aptitude Rating test requirement for some officer fields.
“You stay in because you enjoy what you do — that you’re working with a fair system, you understand the goals of the system, and you want to be a part of the team.”
The report recommends the Navy examine the structure currently in place for promotions, detailing and milestone job opportunitiesand look for ways to promote diversity among detailers, board support personnel and others at Navy Personnel Command so that they reflect “the diversity of the Navy population.”
“We want those assignment officers to reflect the diversity of the force, too,” Nowell said.
The Navy may also broaden the diversity data included in the records of selection board proceedingsand several other submissions in an attempt to bolster transparency and “reduce perceptions of favoritism or bias.”
The task force wants to establish more options for sailors who believe they have received an unfair evaluation, but it is also looking to better educate sailors about career path and leadership requirements so they understand what it takes to remain competitive throughout their careers.
The report also suggests examining screening and conversion requirements, which may include unintentional bias from community managers and detailers, and remove “exclusive language” to aid retention.
“Sailors must have confidence that our processes are fair, free from negative forms of bias, transparent and yield results driven by one’s merit and ability,” the report said.
Both the U.S. Naval Academy and the Naval Service Training Command, which oversees NROTC programs, have agreed to participate in the pilot.
Other options on the table include picking up more side-load NROTC scholarships among underrepresented groups to replace midshipmen who drop out. The Navy would dish out two- to three-year NROTC scholarships for students already enrolled in a university to counter some of the attrition from these programs. Some students eligible for such a scholarship may not have know about the benefits available to them through NROTC, the report claimed
“NROTC units must be proactive in telling the Navy story and attracting talent,” the report says.
That effort could be coupled with hiring an NROTC deputy commander at five historically Black colleges or minority-serving institutions to assist increasing commission rates and coordinating these side-scholarships, the report says.
On the education side of things, the report advises installing a subjectivity mitigation tool that would promote inclusion and diversity awareness.
Innovation and STEM
The underrepresentation of minority groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields jeopardizes national security because it contributes to a lack of thought diversity, according to the report.
Although AI would not cut out human involvement in the process, the technology could perhaps be used in some ways to counter bias.
Facilitating better mentorship throughout the entire Fleet is also a goal, and the report proposes another pilot program that would pair flag officers, master chief petty officers and senior executive service civilians with diverse or minority midshipmen, seaman recruits and their civilian counterparts.
“This mentoring pilot program would be designed to remove barriers, increase communication and to gain a better understanding of what we must improve as an organization,” the report said. “We all know the importance of mentoring, advocacy and sponsorship.”
Additionally, the report recommends including a women’s policy advisor in OPNAV-17 to enhance accession and representation of women in the service, and also to minimize the retention gaps seen between women and their male counterparts.
Jane Roberts, Task Force One Navy senior civilian advisor, said a common thread among women serving in the military is that they feel like they have to work twice as hard as their male contemporaries for the opportunity to advance and constantly feel pressure to prove themselves.
Roberts said Task Force One Navy only “scratched the surface” on women’s policy issues, and as a result, is simply a cornerstone for future steps the service must take.
“We felt like this had to be a long-term effort though, with continued oversight,” Roberts told Navy Times.
The objective is to determine the extent of racial and gender disparities and to provide leadership with greater awareness. Such an effort would be handled through the Office of the Judge Advocate General, who would record and publish the findings.
Similarly, the report suggests crafting Page13 language for sailors in order to counter hate speech and to bolster accountability.
Beyond these recommendations, Navy leaders emphasized that cultural changes would be critical in helping stamp out extremist views within the ranks so that sailors feel comfortable raising concerns and standing up for their fellow sailors.
“When sailors know that you’re gonna listen to them, they’ll bring you their problems,” Holsey said. “If they think you can turn them away, then they’re going to hide their problems.”
“I’m not concerned about folks not coming forward, especially when leaders show that they care,” Holsey said.
According to a Military Times survey from 2020, 36 percent of all active-duty troops claimed they had personally seen examples of white supremacy and racism within the military. The poll surveyed 1,630 active-duty Military Times subscribers in the fall of 2019.
And just last month, the Pentagon announced that it was conducting a review of its extremism policies — a move that came following the Jan.
Capitol. Nearly 20 percent of those charged in connection with the insurrection have ties to the U.S. military, according to an analysis from NPR.
“I think that, arguably, many of us thought that the nation and the Navy had made more progress than we had,” Nowell said. “It’s not that we hadn’t made progress, but there’s still plenty more to be made.”
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The exact timeline for implementing these recommendations is unclear. First, Gilday must sign off on these proposals. Then, according to a fact sheet provided to reporters, the Navy will “move out full speed ahead” to implement them, although some of the more complex recommendations may involve several stages.
Despite skepticism from sailors that Task Force One Navy is any different from previous initiatives to enhance diversity and inclusion in the service, Navy leaders are confident that this issue will remain a priority based on the backing from leadership to sustain the effort and include training throughout sailors’ entire careers.
Likewise, the effort is being folded into the Navy’s Culture of Excellence campaign, which is designed to cultivate transparency and inclusion and keep the service accountable.
“And that’s why I think we’ll make a difference.”.