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. “Our Navy must continue to remove barriers to service, and most importantly, be a shining example of a workforce centered on respect, inclusive of all. 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 processs to reduce potential bias.
“Our recommendations have been well-vetted, key initiatives red-teamed and the temporal aspect of when to act considered. We concluded that to do nothing is unacceptable,” the report said. “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. The OAR has sections on math, English and mechanical comprehension.
Another suggestion is to establish a three-year pilot program allowing commanding officers to tap eligible sailors for a commissioning program.
Talent management & retention
The next step is evaluating ways to keep the Fleet diverse.
“So why do you stay in?” Holsey said. “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. “To this end, we will continue to refine our processes to make sure the right information is available at critical talent-management decision points to ensure our best and fully qualified Sailors from our inclusive Navy are in the right positions to meet our service objectives.”
The task force wants to resurrect the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training program, also known as BOOST, which was folded into the Seaman to Admiral program but ultimately shuttered in 2008.
The purpose for rebooting BOOST 2.0 is to pave the way for enlisted sailors to become successful midshipmen candidates — even if their initial test scores were below those required for NROTC admission, the Navy said.
“The emphasis placed on standardized testing in recruiting and selection processes causes a disproportionately negative impact on the number of minority officer applications,” the report states.
Task Force One Navy proposes starting a pilot program comprising 10 midshipmen candidates who would attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School for a year and then earn a four-year NROTC scholarship upon successful completion.
The program is designed to expand and accommodate 50 midshipmen candidates annually within the span of five years. 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. To mitigate these challenges, the Navy must capitalize on military and civilian relationships with social groups geared toward minorities.
“By leveraging the relationships that our military/ civilian members in STEM fields have formed in predominantly minority professional fraternities, sororities and other affinity groups, the Navy can strengthen its networks to increase outreach and interest in STEM among underrepresented groups,” the report said.
A series of mentorship programs — such as a STEM outreach program for diverse K-12 students — would also prove beneficial, the report says.
Other recommendations include adding “respect” to the Navy’s core values, and also updating the process for naming ships, buildings and streets to highlight a more diverse group of historic Naval figures.
The Navy should also test artificial intelligence in selection board settings, the report states. 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. “That this couldn’t be just a look at it once and sit on a shelf, it had to be a blueprint for the future, an action plan and path that we continue to monitor and make progress on every year.
That’s why the report recommends installing a management advisory group to provide feedback to the women’s policy advisor on topics of particular concern to female sailors, to include parenting policy, uniform apparel, footwear and grooming standards.
The report also advises establishing a capability to track the race, ethnicity and gender of those subjected to non-judicial punishment actions. 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. 6 insurrection and attack on the U.S. 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.”
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. Similarly, listening sessions are also going to continue.
“I think that sailors are going to respect where we’re going, because we’re … going to address it for what it is and get after operationalizing this effort,” said Master Chief Huben Phillips, the task force’s senior enlisted advisor.
Holsey acknowledged that, in the past, the Navy has sometimes taken its foot “off the pedal” and lost focus, but said this time the Navy is keeping its eye on the target.
“We’re all in on this,” Holsey said. “And that’s why I think we’ll make a difference.”