The Navy recently hosted an “inaugural diversity, equity, and inclusion summit” for information warfare sailors where a pro-Black Lives Matter entrepreneur was the keynote speaker, according to a press release on its website.
The two-day summit, hosted by Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR), took place in Suffolk, Virginia, on April 21-22, 2022, and more than 150 sailors, civilians, and others from Navy Information Warfare commands from around the world attended, the release said. NAVIFOR’s mission is to train information warfare sailors for the Navy.
The summit was aimed at “identifying new approaches to attracting, developing and retaining talent in the information warfare community” and an “opportunity to inform the information warfare community of the Navy’s DEI initiatives,” the release said.
The first day of the summit featured a panel on the “state of information warfare diversity,” Navy DEI initiatives, and “overcoming the challenges of bias around race, ethnicity, gender, and the many dimensions of diversity.”
Day two of the summit opened with a yoga class, and was followed by an information warfare leadership panel that discussed “why inclusion matters and how to get there,” and panels where sailors discussed barriers they faced during their service. “The panels allowed open questions and candid discussions, further enabling DEI dialogue,” the release said.
Several high profile Navy figures spoke at the summit. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday’s wife, Linda Gilday, opened the summit. She is a senior executive program manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC).
She told attendees, according to the release: “The term Diversity means more than just hiring and having so many x-y-z on the rolls. It’s making sure you have invited a range of people with differences to the conversation…different perspectives, ages, races, ethnic backgrounds, gender, experience levels to name a few.”
NAVIFOR Commander Vice Adm. Kelly Aeschbach called DEI “an operational imperative” in the information warfare community. “This is an operational imperative – our people are our greatest resource,” she said. “I need to ensure we are considering and including talented and skilled members from across all cross-sections of society, representing all facets of our American people.”
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Development Vice Adm. Jeffery Hughes “emphasized the three pillars of DEI in the Navy going forward,” the release said. “It is incredibly important that we reflect the values that we value, but also incredibly important that we serve as an exemplar to the rest of the nation and to the rest of the world,” he said.
Commander of the Naval Information Warfighting Development Center Rear Adm. Michael Vernazza said, “The diversity of thoughts and opinions will give us creativity and innovation… . We need that to compete and win in the era of great power and competition.”
Frans Johansson, a Swedish pro-Black Lives Matter entrepreneur and author of The Medici Effect — Operationalizing Diversity and Inclusion, was the summit’s keynote speaker.
During the summit, Johansson emphasized that diversity and inclusion drives innovation and performance, and “that you need equity in order to enable diversity and inclusion,” the release said.
In June 2020, Johansson authored a Forbes piece that called for organizations to build “systems and processes that hold people accountable when they perpetuate systems of oppression.”
Leaders, what comes after the open conversations with employees, the monetary commitments to social justice organizations, and the public statements on why Black Lives Matter. I share more in my first @Forbes contributor piece!https://t.co/pZ3lyyznZS
— Frans Johansson (@Frans_Johansson) June 24, 2020
Gilday did not know how much the summit cost the Navy, and could not say what its purpose was, under questioning from Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), a naval reservist and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.
“How much did that cost us Admiral? What do we get out of it? What do we get out of this summit?” Banks asked.
Gilday responded, “I don’t know what the cost of that summit was, sir, I think there’s power in harnessing the differences among us –.”
“What do we get out of it?” Banks asked again. “What are the takeaways from the summit that justifies the resources?”
Gilday said he had not had a “detailed readout” of the particular gathering.
The Navy release said the summit was established as a “direct response” to Gilday’s call to “identify and remove racial barriers, improve inclusion efforts, create new opportunities for professional development, and eliminate obstacles” to sailors.
Gilday came under fire from Banks and other Republicans last year when he assigned books promoting Critical Race Theory on his recommended reading list for sailors, including How to Be an Antiracist by critical race theorist Ibram X. Kendi.
This year, he omitted the book from his reading list. Banks asked him if it was a decision to divert away from politics. Gilday said, ” I don’t have a political agenda, sir.”