Mullen: U.S. Military Needs More Diversity

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2010 — The armed ser­vices “can’t go fast enough” to increase diver­si­ty, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group of senior mil­i­tary lead­ers here yes­ter­day.

Mullen addressed the Air Force Diver­si­ty Senior Work­ing Group, com­prised of Air Force senior lead­ers includ­ing more than 50 gen­er­al offi­cers who were attend­ing a two-day work­ing group aimed at increas­ing diver­si­ty across the armed forces.

Bol­ster­ing diver­si­ty across the mil­i­tary requires fast, direct action, Mullen told the group.

“There isn’t any­body sit­ting in this room … who won’t look back 10 years from now and say, ‘I wish we could have gone faster,’ ” the chair­man said. “There are some things we should have done bet­ter, more risks we should have tak­en to get this right. And the demo­graph­ics are pret­ty daunt­ing.”

Mullen said his boy­hood in small-town, mid­dle-class Cal­i­for­nia did­n’t show him much of the world. When he came home for a few weeks of vaca­tion in August 1965 after his first year at the U.S. Naval Acad­e­my, he saw the Watts sec­tion of Los Ange­les aflame with race riots.

“I’m 15 miles from Watts, and it is burn­ing down,” he said.

The 1960s and 1970s put a glar­ing light on race and civ­il rights issues in Amer­i­ca and the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary. As a young mil­i­tary offi­cer, Mullen said, he learned ear­ly to focus on people’s indi­vid­ual capa­bil­i­ties.

“Even back then, from my per­spec­tive, what I was try­ing to do was put the best tal­ent togeth­er to get the job done,” Mullen said.

When he became chief of Naval Oper­a­tions in 2005, Mullen said, he made diver­si­ty a pri­or­i­ty.

“When you’re tak­ing on a very, very dif­fi­cult chal­lenge like this and try­ing to change your insti­tu­tion, you can’t go fast enough,” he said.

Mullen said he focused his diver­si­ty goals for the Navy on two areas: minori­ties and women.

“That’s where the lead­er­ship was real­ly crit­i­cal, and we were not doing very well,” he said.

Now, Mullen said, the Navy has a num­ber of female one-star offi­cers who are com­pet­i­tive for the future.

“We know how to make [gen­er­al offi­cers],” he said. “We’ve been doing it a long time, and it’s actu­al­ly pret­ty sim­ple. You put them in the right jobs, and if they do well, they get pro­mot­ed. And a real­ly inter­est­ing dynam­ic that was going on in the Navy in 2005, Mullen said, was: “Who is putting peo­ple in jobs?”

When he looked into it, Mullen said he found that the peo­ple mak­ing offi­cer assign­ments for the “hot” career paths were white males.

“There cer­tain­ly was­n’t much of a path for those that could­n’t break through. Almost overnight, once I knew that, and we start­ed to diver­si­fy our assign­ment offi­cers … all of a sud­den, records that were just as good as any oth­er records start­ed sur­fac­ing,” he said.

His senior lead­ers reg­u­lar­ly report­ed to him on their progress in increas­ing diver­si­ty, Mullen said.

“We mea­sured our­selves on that … and if there were senior offi­cers that weren’t doing this, they were leav­ing,” he said. Mullen said he now keeps a mag­a­zine on his desk with a cov­er pho­to of three Navy three-star admi­rals, all black, so that every­one who vis­its his office can see it.

“Three or four years ago, you did­n’t see that [senior-lev­el diver­si­ty] in the Navy,” Mullen said. Today’s minor­i­ty role mod­els, he said, pro­vide impor­tant exam­ples of suc­cess to young mil­i­tary offi­cers.

With­out such role mod­els “you’re not going to make it, no mat­ter what pro­grams we have or how much we talk about it,” the admi­ral said.

The dri­ve for diver­si­ty in the mil­i­tary is tal­ent-dri­ven, Mullen said. Short­ly after he became chief of Naval Oper­a­tions, he recalled address­ing a diver­si­ty con­fer­ence com­prised pri­mar­i­ly of young offi­cers. Mullen thought he had a strong mes­sage for them, but his mes­sage came back at him dur­ing the ques­tion-and-answer peri­od.

“This young Coast Guard ensign asked me, ‘What about that all white-male staff you just walked in here with?’ ” Mullen said. Two years after hear­ing that ensign’s ques­tion, the admi­ral said he gath­ered his per­son­al staff.

“I stood back from that and looked … and I think I was the only white guy in the room,” Mullen said. “It was all women and minori­ties. And what real­ly struck me that day was how dis­ap­point­ed I was in myself that it took me so long. Because this was the best tal­ent, the most tal­ent, I’d ever seen in a room … per­son by per­son.”

Diver­si­ty is all about oppor­tu­ni­ty, Mullen said.

“This is not about bias or any­thing like that. This is: ‘Here’s the job, here’s your oppor­tu­ni­ty — sink or swim,’ ” he said. “There was way too much not get­ting the oppor­tu­ni­ties, for what­ev­er rea­son: insti­tu­tion­al, sys­tem­at­ic, how we were assign­ing peo­ple, you name it. It just was­n’t going on. And again, we know how to do this, because we know what it takes to get pro­mot­ed in our sys­tem.”

The mil­i­tary ser­vices and the offi­cer ranks can­not remain effec­tive if they veer away from the nation’s demo­graph­ic make­up, Mullen said. By 2040 or 2050, he said, white males will become a minor­i­ty seg­ment of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion. But the ser­vice acad­e­mies, which last year grad­u­at­ed the flag-offi­cer class of 2040, do not reflect that real­i­ty in their cur­rent class enroll­ments, which are less than 50 per­cent — and in some cas­es less than 25 per­cent — minori­ties and women.

“The lead­er­ship has got to think about it, from my per­spec­tive, along those lines,” Mullen said. “And then be very hard on our­selves: Are we mak­ing progress?”

Increas­ing diver­si­ty with­in the Defense Department’s mil­i­tary and civil­ian work­forces isn’t mag­ic, Mullen said.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” he said, not­ing increas­ing diver­si­ty requires com­mit­ment by the lead­er­ship.

“And, more impor­tant­ly,” he con­tin­ued, “the oppor­tu­ni­ty for us as a mil­i­tary to just grow stronger and stronger and stronger, which we must do over the course of the next 10, 20, 30 years.”

The Amer­i­can mil­i­tary, like Amer­i­can indus­try, has to work hard­er to increase diver­si­ty, the chair­man said.

“There are a lot of things we can learn in terms of those who have done this before,” Mullen said. “In the end, for us, I think it’s going to come down to some very basic things.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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