Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday wants the Navy to become the most diverse military service in order to be competitive in the 21st century.

“My goal is to put the Navy in a place over the next 20 years where we’re the most diverse service in the DoD,” Gilday said during a “State of the Navy” event hosted Thursday by Defense One.

“I think it’s going to be a long-term effort to get us where we need to be with respect to a diverse force,” Gilday said. “And where, you know, we ultimately have a force where respect is part of everybody’s DNA, right?”

The ultimate goal, he said, is for the force to respect diversity — which not only encompasses racial and gender diversity, but experience and varied backgrounds. That will require the Navy to modify how it recruits, retains and manages talent to remain competitive.

“I think that if organizations don’t have that mindset, they’re not going to be competitive in this century,” Gilday said.

The services all vary in terms of racial diversity.

Altogether, more than 41 percent of of enlisted sailors are people of color — the highest ratio of all the branches of the military. They comprise nearly 23 percent of officers in the Navy, behind the Army’s nearly 27 percent, according to Department of Defense figures from 2019.

According to a Council on Foreign Relations study, Black male and Black female enlisted recruits comprise a higher percentage of enlisted accessions than are represented in the civilian workforce of 18- to 44-year-olds, based on 2018 numbers from the undersecretary of defense. Meanwhile, white, Asian and Hispanic enlisted recruits make up a smaller percentage of accessions than are represented in the civilian workforce.

But the military as a whole lacks racial diversity among higher ranks. Based on data from the Congressional Research Service, the study found that nearly 90 percent of general or flag officers in 2018 were white, and nearly 80 percent of all officers were white.

The number of enlisted women across the military branches has gradually expanded. Approximately 20 percent of the Navy and Air Force’s active-duty enlisted force were women, as of 2018, compared to 14 percent in the Army’s enlisted force, 13 percent in the Coast Guard and 9 percent in the Marine Corps.

The Air Force and Coast Guard having the highest percentage of women serving as officers. According to the study’s findings, 22 percent of officers in the Air Force are women, compared to 23 percent in the Coast Guard. Meanwhile, 19 percent of officers in the Navy and Army are women, while only 8 percent of officers in the Marine Corps are women.

Gilday’s comments come as the Navy is reevaluating various policies to counter bias and inequality in the service. For example, the Navy established Task Force One Navy in 2020 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.”

An initial report for Task Force One Navy, unveiled in February, detailed more than 50 recommendations to facilitate diversity and inclusion in the service in areas like talent management, retention and professional development.

Suggestions to attract sailors from a broad range of backgrounds include modifying marketing and advertising strategies for Generation Z people of color — those the Pew Research Center defines as born in 1997 or after — and establishing a “whole person” evaluation blueprint that avoids relying too heavily on standardized tests. Rather, this type of evaluation would also look at character and other leadership attributes.

“Here’s what we know about inclusion and diversity in the Navy,” Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr., the Navy’s chief of personnel and the Navy’s chief inclusion and diversity officer, told reporters in February. “One, you need to bring more diversity in the front door. And two, we need to make sure that we keep that diversity.”

To help retain a diverse population of sailors, the report advises the Navy to examine the structure currently in place for promotions, detailing and milestone job opportunities. It suggests expanding the diversity data included in the records of selection board proceedings and several other submissions in an attempt to foster transparency.

“If anything, we’re getting more diverse, not less diverse and we need to welcome it, we need to embrace it,” Gilday said. “And we need to use it to our advantage.”

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