7. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY IN THE MILITARY
7.1 Concepts & Principles
Today's military leadership is fully committed to equal opportunity.
This commitment has produced considerable progress, although more
remains to be done, particularly for women. Historically, the
Army has been the most successful of all the services at racial
integration-- a record, one official explained, built on "necessity,
control and commitment." More specifically:
7.2 Policies & Practices
First, the current leadership views complete racial integration
as a military necessity -- that is, as a prerequisite to a cohesive,
and therefore effective, fighting force. In short, success with
the challenges of diversity is critical to national security.
Experience during the 1960s and 1970s with racial conflict in
the ranks was an effective lesson in the importance of inclusion
and equal opportunity. As a senior Pentagon official told us,
"Doing affirmative action the right way is deadly serious
for us -- people's lives depend on it."
Second, doing it "the right way" means ensuring
that people are qualified for their jobs; promotion is based on
well-established performance criteria which are not abandoned
in pursuit of affirmative action goals.
Third, the equal opportunity mission is aggressively integrated
into the management systems -- from intensive efforts at training
to formal incorporation of EO performance into the appraisals
used by promotion boards.
Fourth, the military has made very substantial efforts
and investments in outreach, retention and training. These tools
help build diverse pools of qualified individuals for assignment
Fifth, despite the formality of the military system, the
details vary somewhat across services. Different officials expressed
slightly different perceptions about subtle aspects of how the
Because minorities are overrepresented in the enlisted ranks and
underrepresented in the officer corps (compare Exhibits 3 &
4), the armed forces have focused recently on the officer "pipeline."
The services employ a number of tools:
The MEOA includes both data and narrative assessments of progress
in 10 areas. One of these is recruitment and accessions (i.e.,
commissioning of officers). Other areas include officer and enlisted
promotion results, completion of officer and enlisted professional
military education (e.g., the war colleges and noncommissioned
officer academies), augmentation of officers into the Regular
component, assignment to billets that are Service defined as career-enhancing
and to commanding officer and deputy commanding officer billets,
and over- and under-representation of minorities or women in any
military occupational category. In addition to these formal efforts,
the Services support the efforts of non-profit service organizations,
such as the Air Force Cadet Officer Mentor Action Program, that
strengthen professional and leadership development through mentorship,
assist in the transition to military life, and support the establishing
- Goals & Timetables: The Navy and the Marine
Corps, historically less successful than the other services in
this arena, have responded in recent months by setting explicit
goals to increase minority representation in the officer corps.
Both services seek to ensure that, in terms of race and ethnicity,
the group of officers commissioned in the year 2000 roughly reflects
the overall population: 12 percent African American, 12 percent
Hispanic, and 5 percent Asian. Department of the Navy officials
point out that this represents a significantly more aggressive
goal than had been the case, when the focus for comparison had
been on college graduates; the more aggressive goal implies vigorous
outreach and other efforts (see below). Moreover, the Navy and
the Marine Corps have set specific year-by-year targets for meeting
the 12/12/5 goal.
- Outreach, Recruiting, & Training: All of the
services target outreach and recruiting activities through ROTC,
the service academies, and other channels. Also, the services
have made special, race-conscious (though not racially exclusive)
efforts to recruit officer candidates. For example, the Army
operates a very successful "preparatory school" for
students nominated to West Point whose academic readiness is thought
to be marginal; the enrollees are disproportionately but non exclusively
- Selection Procedures: All of the services emphasize
racial and gender diversity in their promotion procedures. The
Army, for example:
- instructs officer promotion boards to "be alert to the
possibility of past personal or institutional discrimination --
either intentional or inadvertent";
- sets as a goal that promotion rates for each minority and
gender group at least equal promotion rates for the overall eligible
population; if, for example, a selection board has a general
guideline that 44 percent of eligible lieutenant colonels be promoted
to colonel, the flexible goal is that promotions of minorities
and women be at that same rate;
- establishes a "second look" process under which
the files for candidates from underrepresented groups who are
not selected upon initial consideration are reconsidered with
an eye toward identifying any past discrimination; and
- instructs members of a promotion board carefully so that the
process does not force promotion boards to use quotas. Indeed,
as Exhibits 5-7 illustrate, the minority and women promotion
rates often diverge considerably from the goal.
- Management Tools: These include performance standards,
reporting requirements, and training and analytic capacity.
- Personnel evaluations include matters related to effectiveness
in EO matters.
- DoD maintains the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute,
which trains EO personnel, advises DoD on EO policy, and conducts
- DoD conducts various surveys and studies to monitor equal opportunity
initiatives and the views of personnel.
- Most important, DoD requires each service to maintain and review
affirmative action plans and to complete an annual "Military
Equal Opportunity Assessment" (MEOA). The MEOA reports whether
various equal opportunity objectives were met and identifies problems
such as harassment and discrimination.
7.3 Performance & Effects
In quantitative terms, the military has significantly increased
opportunities for minorities. As Exhibit 9 illustrates, in 1949,
0.9 percent of all officers were African American; today, that
proportion is 7.5 percent; in 1975, only five percent of active
duty officers across all services were minorities, and today that
proportion is 13 percent. At senior levels, over the past two
decades there has been a fairly steady increase in, for example,
the numbers of African Americans at the colonel/Navy captain rank;
General and flag officer representation increased until roughly
1982, and has been essentially steady since then.
It is important to note, however, that equal opportunity has not
meant total racial harmony or universal respect for the system.
A congressional task force that interviewed 2,000 military personnel
reported continued perceptions of discrimination, some perceptions
of reverse discrimination, and a need to strengthen equal opportunity
training. For example, the task force reported that at one
installation, on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 = poor, 5 = excellent),
minority enlisted personnel rated the equal opportunity climate
at 1.9, while majority enlisted personnel rated the climate at
4.1. This and other data suggest continuing sharp differences
in perceptions. The Services conduct regular Military Equal Opportunity
Climate Surveys. Generally, the races and sexes diverge when asked
whether the unit's command structure is committed to equal opportunity.
The greater divergence tends to occur between minority women officers
and majority male officers, who respectively rate that commitment
as "below average" and "good."
Finally, as noted earlier, there are significant variations in
diversity across the services, and across specialties and missions
within each service. For example, the Navy and Marines have lagged
generally, and all the services report comparatively less success
in integrating the ranks of technical specialties and of certain
"technical" career tracks. For women, progress slowed
by restrictions on the categories of jobs available to them. This
should be eased as more women move into combat-related positions
available since April 1993.
The Department of Defense reports that minorities constitute less
than 2 percent of the Air Force enlisted missile maintenance personnel,
and 17 percent of the enlisted Electronic Warfare/Intercept Maintenance
personnel in the Army, while more than 24 percent and 41 percent
of the enlisted personnel in the Air Force and the Army, respectively,
are minorities. In the case of officers, only 6 percent of the
Navy physical scientists, and 7 percent of the officers of the
Marine Corps Electronic Maintenance officers are minorities.
Several tentative inferences can be drawn from DoD's experience.
7.5 Conclusions and Recommendations
- Goals and related policies play a critical role in military
promotions. DoD and Service officials are unanimous in
stating that merit is not sacrificed in the effort to meet goals
for equal opportunity and diversity. The Services reconcile this
emphasis on merit with their commitment to correcting underrepresentation
of minorities and women by using the tools of goal-setting, outreach
and training. The key appears to be management vigilance, motivated
by a clear sense of the relationship of diversity issues to the
- The military is unique. In significant respects,
the policies and practices of the military may not be portable
to other realms. The military is unlike other public and private
entities in several relevant dimensions:
- A closed system: There are virtually no lateral hires
in the military, thus competition for promotions are among a closed
group. Moreover, under the general "up-or-out" policy,
underperforming personnel tend to leave the service.
- A controlled system: The military has tremendous discretion
to assign, train, and promote its personnel. This provides a degree
of control not available elsewhere.
- A disciplined system: Individuals who are unhappy
with the management priorities, including the attention to diversity,
are likely to keep their objections to themselves or exit the
service. While EO measures are subject to continual evaluation,
internal protest against such a high priority initiative would
be frowned upon.
- But some lessons may be transferrable. Nevertheless,
certain elements in the military success may be applicable more
broadly, including in the corporate sector:
- Top-down priority: There is no confusion in the ranks
about the importance of the equal opportunity agenda. Private
sector experts on affirmative action stress the importance of
similar commitment flowing from the Board Room to the line supervisors.
- Thorough implementation: Relatedly, the goals are pursued
with a range of tools, from management information systems, to
equal opportunity training, to performance appraisals of managers
based on their EO efforts.
- Emphasize merit and have patience, but measure results:
The long-term support for the program has depended upon the firm
belief that merit principles are indispensable. The payoff has
required both patience and investments. Patience, however, can
degenerate into flagging commitment unless progress is carefully
measured, tracked and related to goals.
- Investments for a quality pool: The organization works
to recruit, retain and upgrade the skills of women and minorities
to ensure that they, like their white male colleagues, can compete
effectively in the promotion pool.
- Overall, the military has made significant progress.
In part because of the closed and controlled nature of the system,
the military has made significant progress. Interestingly, to
the extent that side-effects of aggressive equal opportunity policy
may exist -- such as resentment by white males -- they are probably
subdued by the high level of discipline in the services.
It is worth noting, however, that President Truman's actions in
1948 to provide equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed
forces took several decades to bear fruit, as measured
by the increasing representation of minorities in the flag and
general officer ranks.
Do the military's affirmative action programs meet the President's
tests: Do they work? Are they fair?
Does it work?
For years, segregation in the military was a widely-debated national
issue. Even after the military was desegregated, however, the
effects of discrimination were deeply ingrained. Racial conflict
within the military during the Vietnam era was a blaring wakeup
call to the fact that equal opportunity is absolutely indispensable
to unit cohesion, and therefore critical to military effectiveness
and our national security. Then, with the move to an All Volunteer
Force, the military's need to include all Americans in the pool
of potential recruits took on added urgency. Today, discussions
with both uniformed and civilian leaders at the Pentagon make
clear that the justification for aggressive, affirmative efforts
to create equal opportunity is understood by commanders and translated
into a broad program of outreach, recruitment, training, retention,
and management strategies.
The uneven pattern of progress across the services reflects both
different choices of strategy and differences in top-level commitment
over the years. Many observers, for example, credit the Army's
leading effort to the unswerving drive of a few general officers
and certain subcabinet officers during the 1970s. Of special importance
were the efforts of Carter-era Army Secretary Clifford Alexander,
the first African-American service secretary. While much remains
to be done, (the pipeline has not yet led to senior ranks diverse
enough to declare victory), the trend and the commitment are positive.
Is it fair?
The military has always had a different role and different requirements.
For example, actions taken by the Department of Defense since
April 1993 have resulted in the eligibility of women for assignment
to some 260,000 additional military positions, many of which involve
combat. However, women may not be assigned to units that engage
in direct ground combat. The military is exempt from the statues
prohibiting discrimination in employment. Nevertheless, its affirmative
action efforts prohibit quotas. The core of their strategy is
to build the pool so that there are minorities and women
fully qualified to enlist, succeed, and rise.
We recommend that the President:
- Meet with senior military and civilian leadership of the
Armed Services to underscore personally the importance of continued
progress in ensuring equal opportunity to women and minorities.
Of special concern are: the "pipeline" difficulties
at the flag and general officer ranks; the importance of successful
implementation of recent initiatives to correct the lagging performance
of the Navy and Marine Corps; and improvement in certain career
tracks in all of the Forces, such as "technical" specialties,
where underrepresentation remains substantial.
- Direct the Secretary of Defense to convene a high-level group
to examine the degree to which the military's equal opportunity
philosophy and management tools (such as performance evaluations,
job-specific training, sexual harassment training, and alternative
dispute resolution) can be adapted to non-military organizations,
including DOD's civilian workforce and private sector organizations.
Of particular interest is whether the driving force behind the
military's commitment to equal opportunity -- military necessity
-- has analogies in other settings. That group, whose members
should include retired senior military officers and corporate
executives, should report back to the President.
- Instruct DoD officials to share with other agencies the
materials that DoD has developed for its equal opportunity training
for senior military and civilian officials.