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Navy’s new diversity program actually hurts diversity, results show

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) returns to Naval Station Norfolk. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sophie A. Pinkham)
August 04, 2021

The Navy and the Marine Corps may once again require official photos to be submitted for promotion consideration after the Navy found the decision to remove official photos actually hurt diversity.

During a panel discussion for the Navy League’s 2021 Sea-Air-Space Exposition on Monday, Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr., the chief of Naval personnel said, “I think we should consider reinstating photos in selection boards. We look at, for instance, the one-star board over the last five years, and we can show you where, as you look at diversity, it went down with photos removed.”

In September, the Navy announced it was removing official photos from all officer promotion, selection and assignment boards. Nowell said at the time that the move “will ensure no intentional or unconscious bias, based on race, ethnicity, gender or national origin, is any part the career decisions we make about our people.” On Tuesday, however, Nowell said the decision to remove official photos from promotion considerations actually caused the diversity of the Navy to go down.

Last year, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a memorandum 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.

“It’s a meritocracy. We’re only going to pick the best of the best, but we’re very clear with our language … that we want them to consider diversity across all areas. Right?” Nowell said. “And therefore … I think having a clear picture on this just makes it easier. So, actually, our data show that it would support adding photos back in.”

Brig. Gen. A.T. Williamson, the director of the Manpower Plans & Policy Division for the Marine Corps, expressed similar concerns as Nowell during the same panel discussion. reported Williamson said the Marines are “really looking at reinstating the photos” as well.

Williamson said the Marine Corps is conducting a survey to investigate where bias is found and the service will address those survey findings. Williamson said changing the promotion photo policy may be one option to address diversity in the ranks.

“If we find out that there [are] disparities within the way we do business within the service, we need to be intellectually curious enough to ask why and figure out why and then figure out what we need to do,” Williamson said.

A Navy decision to return to using promotion board photos wouldn’t be the first time the service has gone back and forth on the issue. The service previously barred official photos from the officer promotion process between 2016 and 2018.