WASHINGTON – The Navy is more diverse than America as a whole but needs to do more to address hate speech, a lack of diversity in its top ranks, and perceptions of favoritism or bias in how minorities are promoted and evaluated, according to a new task force established in the wake of racial justice protests last year.
The findings are among dozens of recommendations released by Task Force One Navy on Wednesday as the Navy assesses how it can improve equality in the service. The panel said that existing efforts in the Navy were “admirable in many respects” but “clearly fell short of adequately addressing the societal challenges of today.”
“We needed to seize this moment to engage in conversations about race, diversity and inclusion within our force more than ever before,” the task force said in its report. “We had to have open, honest and necessary conversations across our Navy and take action.”
The recommendations come amid a broader discussion in the Pentagon about how the military should combat white nationalism, racism and other internal threats. Newly confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the first Black Pentagon chief in history, has promised to do more to root out extremism in the ranks.
The task force was established by Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, over the summer and headed by Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey, one of the Navy’s only Black admirals. That in itself highlights a challenge for the service: While it has had Black admirals, all 10 current four-star admirals are White men. No Black member of the Navy has more than two stars.
About 77% of the Navy’s officers are White, and about 59% of the enlisted sailors are. About 76% of the civilian population is White, according to 2018 census data included in the report. Black people make up about 7 to 8% of the Navy’s officer corps, 19% of the enlisted force, and 13% of the civilian population. But the percentage of Black service members in senior officer positions declines as ranks increase. About 6.3% of the Navy’s captains are Black, as are about 3% of one- and two-star admirals.
Holsey, in a phone call with reporters, said he and other Navy leaders conducted scores of listening sessions with sailors to better understand the issues. The service made big pushes on equality in the 1970s and 1990s, he said, but now is focused on making a sustained effort.
“Sometimes we take our feet off the pedal. Sometimes we can lose focus. But we’re very focused at this time here,” he said.
In the same call, Vice Adm. John Nowell, the Navy’s chief of personnel, said the service is building a formal campaign plan around addressing equality, in similar fashion to how it prepares for military operations.
“That’s the way you get enduring change, is that it’s not episodic,” he said.
The task force’s wide-ranging recommendations include adding “respect” to the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment, which were adopted in 1992.
To counter hate speech more forcefully, the task force recommended incorporating new language that can be inserted into a sailor’s personnel file as a form of discipline. The panel also recommended adopting best practices from the Coast Guard, whose civil rights manual explicitly defines a number of hate incidents, including the depiction of a noose or a swastika, and lays out how commanders should respond if one is reported to them.
Nowell, who is White, said that the service already is “pretty ruthless” in rooting out hate speech, which is forbidden by the Uniform Code of Military Justice that defines criminal behavior for service members. But the task force wanted to more clearly define what qualifies as hate speech and how to respond to it.
“What we want is a culture where sailors treat each other with respect,” he said. “It should never include either something as explicit as hate speech or the microaggressions,” everyday slights and insults that are directed at minorities.
The task force’s work focused in part on recruiting, talent management and retention, professional development, and politically sensitive issues such as the naming of ships and buildings. While much of the research focused on issues of race, it also included discussions about how to be more inclusive of women, who make up about 20% of the service.
Several of the task force’s recommendations call for increased transparency in how the Navy selects people for promotion and plum assignments. Expanding the statistics released about promotions to include details about gender, race and ethnicity would “reduce perceptions of favoritism or bias in the selection board process,” the task force found. It also recommended ensuring diversity among those who select sailors for promotion.
The task force also recommended that the Navy assess “problematic names” for ships and buildings, an issue that has mostly received attention in the Army, where at least 10 installations are named after Confederate officers who fought to preserve slavery.
While the Navy does not name bases after people, some ships could be scrutinized under that process. They include the USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser that memorializes a Civil War victory by the Confederacy, and the USS John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier named by the Reagan administration after the deceased segregationist senator.
The task force’s efforts come amid broader efforts in the Defense Department to achieve racial equality. Last year, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced a de facto ban on Confederate battle flags on military bases, a review of hairstyle and grooming standards to ensure there is no discrimination, and the formation of a new Board on Diversity and Inclusion.