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Panel Recommends Ways to Improve Military Diversity

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2011 – A commission created to improve diversity among military leaders has issued 20 recommendations its members say will make the military better reflect the composition of the United States in its ranks.

The Military Leadership Diversity Commission, created as part of the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, issued the findings yesterday of its 18-month research with recommendations for how the Defense Department can improve the promotion of women and minorities at a time when the nation is expected to become increasingly diverse.

“The armed forces have not yet succeeded in developing a continuing stream of leaders who are as demographically diverse as the nation they serve,” the report says.

The disparity between the numbers of racial and ethnic minorities in the military and their leaders “will become starkly obvious without the successful recruitment, promotion, and retention of racial/ethnic minorities among the enlisted force,” the report says. “Without sustained attention, this problem will only become more acute as the … makeup of the United States continues to change.”

The commission’s chairman, retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles, told American Forces Press Service that while the military is free of the institutional biases of decades past, it retains the appearance of bias because so few women and minorities occupy senior positions.

“There are no institutional biases in the United States military today, … and probably have not been for many, many years,” Lyles said. “But there are some people who think there are, because when you look statistically at the demographics in the United States, and you look at the demographics in the military, then you look at the senior leadership positions, both in officer and senior enlisted ranks, to some it may give the appearance that there are biases that prevented women and minorities from achieving those senior ranks.”

The commission found four reasons for low representation of women and minorities in senior military positions:

-- Low representation of women and minorities in initial officer accessions;

-- Lower representation of women and minority officers in career fields associated with higher officer rank;

-- Lower retention of midlevel female service members; and

-- Lower rates of advancement among female and minority officers.

“Our recommendations were to ensure we remove any potential barriers that exist today; that we make recommendations that enhance the culture, career progression and recruiting [of women and minorities]; and that we grow the pool of eligible candidates,” Lyles said.

The commission recommends that the services consider commitment to diversity in officer promotions and require diversity leadership education and training at all levels.

To further promote diversity, the services must increase their pool of eligible recruits and officer candidates, the report says. Pentagon statistics show that three out of four Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are not eligible to enlist because of low education or test scores, past criminal history, or because they can’t meet health and fitness requirements.

“This is a national security issue requiring the attention and collected effort of top public officials,” the commission’s report says.

The commission also recommended a new, broader definition of “diversity” that would add backgrounds and skills largely missing from today’s military, such as recruiting people from more varied regions and cultural backgrounds and with foreign-language skills and higher math, science and technological abilities.

“Diversity is all the different characteristics and attributes of individuals that are consistent with Department of Defense core values, integral to overall readiness and mission accomplishment, and reflective of the nation we serve,” the report says.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr., the commission’s vice chair, said the military’s needs in recruiting and retaining the right people must start much earlier than at the end of high school.

“Unless we start at the pre-kindergarten level, we’re never going to increase how many kids are graduating and going to college,” said Becton, a former college president and superintendent of Washington, D.C., public schools. Issues such as full-day kindergarten, summer school, and lengthening the hours American children spend in school all have an impact on the military, he said.

Such steps are important, Becton said, to ensure that potential recruits can meet military standards. Nothing the commission has recommended calls for lowering standards, he added.

“There are no efforts whatsoever to decrease standards,” he said. “The standards are proven, and we want people to come up to the standards.”

The commission also recommended that the Pentagon lift its ban on assigning women to ground combat units below the brigade level, citing the policy as a barrier to women attaining the military’s most-senior ranks.

Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said Defense Department officials will evaluate the panel’s recommendations as part of an ongoing review of diversity policies.


Contact Author

Retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr.

Related Sites:
Military Leadership Diversity Commission
From Representation to Inclusion: Diversity Leadership for the 21st-Century Military

Related Articles:
Panel Says Rescind Policy on Women in Combat


Article is closed to new comments.

The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

5/28/2011 5:50:56 PM
The problem in the military is diversity among the senior ranks because the individuals reviewing the files are not minority and are promoting their friends white males. These men are given opportunities and mentored through the ranks to succeed; therefore minorites and women are given the less glorified job in the military to get promoted and when they strive to get the tough and good jobs for promotions. The excuse is you do not meet the qualifications. The GOOD OLE BOY system is alive an well in the military and white men are given numerous opportunities to succeed and FAIL and they still get promoted with the successes and FAILURES. That is the new hidden racism that is suppose to be FAIR. NOT!
- Tazmania, Maryland

3/15/2011 5:02:56 PM
Hope L, David and John H, Washington - I do not think either of you toke the time to read this article. It seems that you are only expressing your fears of the inevitable that is to come. The article specifically mentioned that the standards would not be lowered. So why do you assume to recruit more minorities that the standards have to be lowered? This just reveals your prejudices against minorities. Yes, it begins in school. From kindergarten until a senior in high school kids are given labels. The labels that are put on kids produce the teacher’s expectations. Kids perform as well as what is expected of them. Your not wanting to see this happen ultimately boils done to your own FEAR of minorities. You do not want minorities in you neighborhood, you do not want them in your schools with your kids, and you do not want them to one day become your boss!
- BW, FL

3/14/2011 8:30:16 AM
It is sad that it takes a panel 18 months to come up with a bunch of crazy ideas to change the military. I can not think of any company that is more diversified than the military. Pay and opportunity is there equally for everyone. Just because women and minorities don't stay or can not make it in is not the problem of the services. As a nation our youth are over weight, lazy, and they think they are entitled. It should not be the governments job to Parent kids. Last time I checked it is an all Volunteer service.
- Hope L., TN

3/10/2011 5:59:43 PM
In my experience, a large number of females got out at mid-level ranks because they were in their mid-20s and were ready to start (or already had started) having children. Do NOT lower standards to make the military or it's higher ranks more accessible to less qualified persons. I completely DISAGREE with the premise of changing advancement standards to include racial bias in order to promote female/minority personnel. Not only is this a perpetuation of racism, but it is dangerous. People's lives are at stake here. People should advance through the military ranks based on their performance and aptitude. To do otherwise invites a dangerous condition whereby subordinates may judge that personnel have attained rank "just because they are black". If all the best people at my command are Mexican, I want them leading me. Not because they are Mexican, but because they are the best people. To give fair opportunity to all does not imply that we hold down one group to promote another.
- John H, Washington

3/10/2011 11:32:52 AM
Here we go again! Dumbing down the U.S. Miltary for political correctness. How many of these people on the panel ever served day one in the military? The U.S. Military is the only part of government that works like it should. Giving authority and rank to women or minorities just so it looks good will result in disaster. I think this administration wants to destroy our military. Leave it alone. Our military is working fine.
- Mustang O4, LV, NV

3/10/2011 12:43:41 AM
The whole world must be politically correct !!!
- David Ward, Canada

3/9/2011 12:15:20 AM
In regard to diversity in the higher ranks, a large portion of them and enlisted are those that have served in combat or closely to it, hence the lack of female representation. Finally, those quotes about getting potential recruits into shape starting at an early age such as kindergarten are ripe targets for the leftist propaganda machines. Sure kids aren't meeting standards because of the issues of childhood obesity, falling test scores, but there has got to be a better way to put it such that it doesn't conjure ideas of the military getting involved with education and the like. That just feeds fears of that the military wanting to start institutionalizing children at a young age to be soldiers
- Matthew Kearns, Iowa

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