Navy Admiral Admits Removing Photos from Promotion, Selection Boards Hurt Diversity

Sailors assigned to aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford man the rails as they depart Naval Station Norfolk, Va., June 7. (MC1 Julie Matyascik:Navy)
MC1 Julie Matyascik:Navy

The Navy admiral in charge of personnel admitted at a conference this week that a step taken last year to increase racial diversity among leaders has backfired and actually hurt diversity.

Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr., chief of naval personnel, said Tuesday while speaking at the Navy League’s 2021 Sea-Air-Space Exposition that after the Navy decided to eliminate photos as part of its promotion and selection boards for sailors, diversity went down, not up as intended.

“I think we should consider reinstating photos in selection boards,” he said at the conference, according to the Navy Times. “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.”

He argued that although promotions and selection is a “meritocracy” and the Navy is “only going to pick the best of the best,” “we want them to consider diversity across all areas.”

“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,” he said.

Marine Brig. Gen. A.T. Williamson, director of the Marine Corps’ manpower plans & policy division, reportedly expressed a similar sentiment but said the Marine Corps is still collecting data.

The thinking behind removing the photo was to get rid of any potential racial bias on behalf of those sitting on promotion and selection boards.

The Biden Pentagon has talked about the desire to see as many racial minorities in senior ranks in the military, not just in the lower levels. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was the first African American defense secretary and the first to hire an adviser on diversity.

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