Navy could return to using photos for promotions, personnel chief says
WASHINGTON — The Navy could include service photos in promotion packages again after data suggested minorities are less likely to be selected blindly in some situations by promotion review boards, the service’s chief of personnel said Tuesday.
Diversity among leadership dropped after photos were removed last year from Navy promotion packages, Vice Adm. John Nowell said during a panel discussion on diversity and inclusion at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference.
“I think we should consider reinstating photos in selection boards,” he said. “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.”
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper directed all services in July 2020 to eliminate photos from promotion and selection boards to support diversity in the ranks. But Nowell said adding them back could do more to build a more diverse leadership force.
“It's a meritocracy, we're only going to pick the best of the best, but we're very clear with our language to boards that we want them to consider diversity across all areas,” he said. “Therefore ... I think having a clear picture just makes it easier.”
The Marine Corps is also “looking at reinstating the photos,” Brig. Gen. A.T. Williamson, director of the service’s manpower plans and policy division, said during the panel discussion.
“There are elements of the photo that are ... very helpful for us. I think that we may find that we may have disadvantaged individuals by removing those photos from the boards.”
Williamson said there was an “assumption that there’s bias in the boardroom,” but a recent review of the Marine Corps’ promotion board process by the Department of the Navy’s office for diversity, equity and inclusion found that’s likely untrue.
“We're doing a survey right now to see if there's bias inside the evaluation system,” he said. “[If] we find out that there's disparities within the way we do business within a service, we need to be intellectually curious enough to ask why and then figure out what we need to do.”
The comments come as the Defense Department works to address extremism and promote diversity in the military. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken “very publicly that at the senior leaders’ level, we are not as diverse as the rest of the force,” Chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday.
Kirby said he “wouldn’t speculate the degree to which the secretary might get involved in something as specific as photographs” because the services run their own promotion system. However, he said Austin is open to new ideas to support diversity and inclusion.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. “The secretary has reiterated numerous times to service leadership that he wants to be open-minded about additional solutions, additional ways to increase and to improve diversity inclusion throughout the force, and that he wants them to think creatively about that.”