Every leader understands the importance of diversity and having a diverse workforce.
But what is diversity and how do you achieve that vision? The Navy definition of diversity is “all the different characteristics and attributes of individual Sailors and civilians that enhance the mission readiness of the Navy.” As the NAVSEA commander, I lead a workforce of more than 58,000 talented civilians in career fields ranging from engineers, scientists, acquisition professionals, financial managers to shipyard workers. In order for us to meet our mission requirements of developing, delivering and maintaining America’s Navy, we need a to attract, develop, and retain a high-quality, diverse workforce that values a culture of inclusiveness, and harnesses the teamwork and experience of our workforce to produce ideas and products to keep America’s Navy #1 in the world.
When I became the NAVSEA Commander in 2008, one of my key people goals was for NAVSEA to become the Federal Employer of Choice. Part of that goal was to ensure that we fostered a welcoming environment and that assignments and promotions were transparent and merit-based. Workplace diversity needed to simply be part of the way we do business every day.
To achieve this goal, I conducted a top-down review of the organizational demographics and the path to hiring and promoting personnel into key leadership positions. The results showed that while the command understood and embraced diversity, that in practice we were missing the mark with respect to recruiting women and minorities and advancing them to leadership positions.
To understand and develop a path to change this trend, Executive Director Brian Persons and I implemented annual Diversity Accountability Reviews patterned after those conducted by the CNO with his enterprise leads. In the first assessment, I asked my field activity commanders for an honest appraisal of the state of diversity in their organizations. They looked at:
- Identifying key leadership positions and grade levels;
- Identifying the “pathway” an employee would take to get those positions;
- Defining how the organization makes employees aware of these career pathways; and
- Identifying any systemic barriers or cultural norms that prevented the command from integrating diversity into their organization.
These initial assessments allowed NAVSEA/PEO Headquarters and Field Activities to self identify barriers to improving the diversity of the workforce and to lay out a set of actions to work. The results of these reviews revealed, that despite command rhetoric about practicing diversity, we were not moving the needle in hiring and promoting diverse personnel largely because our eligible pool of candidates lacked diversity. We discovered that senior leadership was not directly involved in the recruiting and hiring processes; managers lacked an understanding of the importance of hiring a diverse workforce; and hiring officials were hiring and promoting people who looked just like themselves. Additionally, we uncovered instances where diverse personnel were migrating off of traditional technical leadership paths and self selecting other career paths (e.g., business and finance) for better promotion opportunities. This was a result of perceived reduced promotion opportunity in their technical career path. The next step was to determine the factors that led to this situation and implement measures to change the culture within our organization.
The factors hindering NAVSEA in increasing minorities and women in key leadership positions fell into these areas.
- Minorities and women were not in gateway positions that would lead them to be considered for key leadership positions.
- Women had migrated out of a technical career path to business operations positions, thereby eliminating them from consideration.
- Women and minorities had limited access to high visibility assignments in order to continue to progress in their careers.
- There was a general lack of succession planning to identify positions that would lead to senior/executive level positions and an absence of cross-cultural mentoring in order to discover talent and bring it along the career track.
- Senior level vacancies were advertised within the local activity only with no expanded search for persons outside of the activity.
- In our shipyard blue collar positions, we found that females were being selected for the apprenticeship programs at significantly lower rates than males; and
- Recruiting and promotion processes (interviews, exams, selection board makeup) had not been vigorously reviewed and influenced by senior leadership to ensure that no demographic was disadvantaged. In essence, we were hiring and promoting personnel the way we always had, despite the fact that our diversity metrics were not reflective of the broader population surrounding our activities and were not improving.
Bottom Line: Our rhetoric concerning fairness to all in hiring and promotions was at odds with our behavior. At face value, these items all seem fairly straightforward and easy to change. We found that it really was not!
During our second year assessment, we met with the leaders of all NAVSEA/PEO Headquarters and Field Activities 12-18 months after the first assessments to determine progress and the effectiveness of their actions. Several of these reviews did not go well and, in fact, some activities were directed to stop hiring or stop promoting personnel until they took actions to increase their pool of qualified candidates. What was at stake was cultural change and without direct senior leader involvement, the status quo would not change. This resulted in two problems: the pool of qualified candidates for hiring and promotion was restricted which resulted in a real loss of opportunity to bring better talent to the team and we were not improving the diversity makeup of our workforce to better reflect that of the surrounding communities.
The major action we took as a result of our assessments was to develop a talent-focused perspective to managing civilian careers, where we identified and eliminated barriers that impeded hiring and career progression in mid-, senior- and executive-level positions; laid out clear career paths and positions leading to senior/executive positions; created opportunities for career enhancement; increased wounded warrior/individuals with targeted disabilities hiring; and launched a enterprise-wide retention initiative. We discovered that the key is that diversity isn’t about quotas, but rather it is about fostering a welcoming environment and having a process where assignments and promotions are transparent and merit-based and built into the culture.
As a team, we are now in our third year of Diversity Accountability Review process – where we require Headquarters and Field Activities to conduct an annual self assessment of their diversity improvement actions. It is a frank discussion about what is working and what is not and the activities unique challenges in terms of talent required and local demographics. Long term, the NAVSEA Diversity reviews are about sustaining our progress; changing our culture about how we view diversity; and how we attract, develop, and mentor talent. This is a continuous journey and NAVSEA fully recognizes that sustained focus and energy must be maintained to continue our progress and that we must view diversity as a “marathon vice a sprint” with everyone on the same starting line.