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Esper is banning use of promotional board photos, ordering review of diversity policies

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)
July 20, 2020

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper released a military directive on Tuesday prohibiting the use of photos in promotion boards until new standards that are free from bias based on race, ethnicity, gender or national origin are established.

The memorandum included a “three-pronged approach” to help combat discrimination, prejudice and bias within the Armed Forces and to improve diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity.

“The actions I am directing are a necessary first step, but hard work remains, and we will continue to learn as we move forward,” the memo states. “Shifting culture requires steadfast attention; these actions will maximize our efforts to ensure a diverse workforce at all levels, an inclusive environment and equal opportunity for all who serve.”

The “three prongs” of Esper’s plan include a “short-term sprint to identify immediate actions,” a “mid-term Department of Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion,” and a “long term Defense Advisory Committee On Diversity and Inclusion in the Armed Services.”

According to the memo, Esper directed immediate action to remove photos from promotion boards while the Department develops additional guidance that “emphasizes retaining qualified and diverse talent.”

The memo also ordered the development of educational requirements for the entire military meant to educate the force on unconscious bias and the review of hairstyle and grooming policies for racial bias. In addition, the defense department must update the military’s equal opportunity and diversity inclusion policies.

“The Department will update its military harassment policy to strengthen protection for service members against inappropriate and intolerable harassing behaviors, especially racial bias and prejudice,” the memo stated.

Also included in the memo was an order to update the department’s equal opportunity policy to prohibit pregnancy-based discrimination.

“As a military, we succeed by working together, hand in hand, side by side,” the memo said. “Diversity and inclusivity in the ranks are not merely aspirations, they are fundamental necessities to our readiness and our mission success.”

In the mid-term, Esper called for Board on Diversity and Inclusion to “dive deeply” in current policies and processes. His long-term plan is meant to provide an independent and constant review and assessment that will “strengthen our efforts in this area for generations to come.”

This isn’t the only area in which the U.S. military is addressing racial discrimination and prejudice concerns. Recently, the Marine Corps banned the display of the Confederate Flag. The Army and Department of Defense are also considering renaming military bases honoring Confederate generals.