Diversity and Defense

When it comes to racial and ethnic makeup in the workplace, one of the most diverse organizations in the United States over the last 75 years has been the military.

Beginning in World War II, the racial composition of the military began to more closely resemble that of the population as a whole. The number of African- Americans totaled an estimated 922,000 enlisted men and more than 8,000 officers, according to the Department of Defense (DOD).

Then, in 1948, President Harry Truman signed two executive orders that increased diversity in the military, one specifically aimed at integrating the military services, the other the federal civilian workforce.

Women also served in World War II, some 350,000, most as medical personnel or support staff. And in 1948, Truman signed another executive order allowing women to serve as permanent, regular members of the armed forces. West Point admitted its first woman to the officer training program in 1976. But the turning point for women in the military was the 1991 Persian Gulf War: more than 40,000 female troops served, some in combat.

Today, the Department of Defense, which administers all of the armed service units, is firmly committed to diversity among its ranks, both military and civilian.

Diversity Woman spoke with Clarence A. Johnson, director of the department’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity.

DW: What was the impetus behind establishing the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity in the Department of Defense?

Clarence Johnson: The office was created in 1994 and originally named the  Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Equal Opportunity.

In 2006, its name was changed to the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity. It was established because the U.S. military sought to achieve a diverse force. Our office has four primary tasks: to sustain engagement with affinity groups and key influencers; to update and align component and agency actions; to convey compelling, coherent, and consistent messages; and to build an accountability construct with metrics that matter.

What this means is the Department of Defense has put a great deal of emphasis on growing diversity through targeted recruiting strategies and marketing efforts. We also are focused on maintaining diversity, and to that end we sustain engagement with different affinity groups such as women in the military; conduct research on diversity in both the military forces and the civilian forces to establish and carry out best practices; and require diversity training of all personnel.

DW: What are some of the key initiatives in recent years?

CJ: I got to the Pentagon in 2000, and since then we have conducted a number of studies that have informed our diversity efforts. Most recently, in collaboration with the Office of Personnel Management, we developed a diversity and inclusion strategic plan. Our strategy broke down into three goals.

First is to ensure leadership communication around diversity. All senior leaders speak about diversity in their communications, and they have established diversity best practices within their divisions to achieve and grow diversity.

Next, we have created an employment strategic outreach effort to recruit from a broad talent pool. This includes not only outreach to attract talent from outside the department, but also inreach, to support the retention of the best and brightest within the DOD.

Lastly, this plan developed strategies for mentoring and retaining top talent across all the forces.

 DW: What kinds of results have you seen with minorities in the Department of Defense?

CJ:  The law does not allow us to have quotas. Still, over the years, due to our continual commitment to diversity, we have generally enjoyed increases in the representation of women and minorities.

In 2011, African-Americans constituted 17 percent of the active-duty force and 10 percent of the officers. And, this is a key data point: 16.3 percent of new recruits in the 18 to 24 group were African- American, compared to just 15 percent of the total population in the United States. On the civilian side, African-Americans make up 15.2 percent of the DOD workforce.

In 2011, 11 percent of our active-duty force and 5.6 percent of our officers were Hispanic-Americans. Among new recruits ages 18 to 24, Hispanic-Americans comprised 17 percent of the total military, compared to 19 percent in that same age cohort in the nation.

Women in the military in 2011 made up 14 to 15 percent of the active-duty force and 34 percent of our civilian population.

DW: What are some of the unique challenges of implementing diversity in the military?

CJ: One challenge is the organizational structure, the fact that the services are decentralized. The Air Force has its own structures and procedures, the Army has its own structures and procedures, etcetera. Our job is to oversee and bring it all together. A one-size-fits-all policy doesn’t work all the time, so we try to have uniformity, but with flexibility.

Another challenge is the fact that we have a closed personnel system. Senior leaders can’t be brought in from the outside. They need to be grown from within the ranks, so our pool to select from is smaller. Recently, a three-star general retired and became a college president. I was speaking to a colleague and he said, “Isn’t it interesting how a general can become a college president, but not even the president of Harvard can become a three-star general?” It takes approximately 25 years to grow a leader from within to that level of rank.

DW: Recently the Department of Defense opened up thousands of more assignments to women, positions that were previously closed to them. What was the motivation behind that? What are some of those new positions?

CJ: Yes, under the leadership of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, we have been studying this since the fall of 2010, when the department recommended to Congress that it open up approximately 14,000 positions to women that heretofore had been closed to them.

Many of these new positions are in the Army, roughly 13,000. These new positions are primarily in six occupations, such as those involved with artillery, maintenance operators, tank mechanics, and multiple launch rocket system crewmembers. Another 1,200 were in direct line combat positions in the Army and Marines. Additionally, the Navy has allowed women to serve on submarines since 2010.

DW: The Department of Defense recently held its first LGBT pride event, at the Pentagon. How did that come about and how many participated?

CJ: The law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military] was officially repealed in 2011. The event at the Pentagon drew 350 attendees. The secretary of defense was off station, but he sent a video message saluting lesbian and gay service members, [LGBT] civilians, and their families. It was an important step. Before, people couldn’t be themselves, and now they can be themselves, and that makes them more productive military members.

DW: Why is diversity good for the Department of Defense?

CJ: The secretary of defense has said that diversity is one of our greatest strengths. In recent years we have met or exceeded our diversity goals. At the same time, the quality of our recruits has been extremely high. Those two factors go together. Our research has shown that a diverse force is a talented force. Diversity has been embraced throughout the chain of command in all the forces. It’s important that we achieve and maintain a force that is representative of America. We value diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Simply put, diversity in the military is good for the nation. DW

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