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Video: Esper announces 3 initiatives on diversity and inclusiveness in the military

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper holds an end of year press conference at the Pentagon on Dec. 20, 2019 in Arlington, Va. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)
June 18, 2020

On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced efforts to ensure diversity and inclusiveness within the U.S. military, including boards to review diversity in promotions and rank advancements.

Esper announced the plans in a video message in which he discussed the formation of a pair of offices to identify ways to improve diversity in promotions and put out a general call for personnel to share their ideas on how to improve diversity in the ranks.

“Today, I want to speak to all members of the Department about a subject that is timely, important, and absolutely essential to the morale, cohesion, and readiness of the military,” Esper said, “ensuring that our ranks reflect and are inclusive of the American people we have sworn an oath to protect and defend.”

Esper went on, “I recently shared with you my pride in being a member of an institution – the United States military – that embraces diversity and inclusion, and rejects hate, bigotry, and unlawful discrimination in all forms. More often than not, we have led on these issues. However, we are not immune to the forces of bias and prejudice – whether visible or invisible, conscious or unconscious.”

Esper said he spoke with officers, enlisted members and civilian members of the Department of Defense over the last week on the topic of racial diversity within the ranks and said “we all agree that it is time to lead once again on this issue.”

“I want to announce three initiatives that will launch a new era, marked by a reinvigorated effort to build a better U.S. military that pursues equal opportunity and aspires to true meritocracy with greater vigor and purpose,” he said.

Esper then announced a three-part plan: to form a “Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion in the Military,” as well as a “Defense Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion in the Armed Services.”

Esper said the advisory committee on diversity would behave similarly to the “well-regarded and successful Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services,” which was formed to address the ongoing topic of women in the military.

In the final part of Esper’s three-part plan, he said he also directed civilian and military defense officials to gather ideas on how to help with protecting merit-based promotion, such as removing photos from promotion and command selection boards.

“This is something I pushed as Secretary of the Army, as we worked to overhaul our personnel system,” Esper said of the particular idea, adding, “I am convinced that there are a number of great ideas already out there right now, large and small, that can help us make important strides in ensuring the Armed Forces look more like the broader society we serve.”

Esper said he wants personnel to submit their ideas by the end of June

“I invite all of you to share with me your good ideas,” Esper said. “I want to hear from you.”