Diversity in the Surface Force Gathering Talent, Getting Stronger
By Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs
As the surface warfare community continues to evolve – leveraging new technologies and operating concepts in order to remain the world’s most effective, persistent, and resilient surface navy – we realize our greatest strength comes from being able to appropriately cultivate and focus the talents of our Sailors. Individually, each brings something unique to the fight; together, they enable all of our community’s many successes.
Recently, Surface Force leadership had an opportunity to meet with Chief of Naval Personnel staff for an annual Strategic Workforce Assessment. This review allows us to improve our understanding of community demographics, challenges, and workforce strategies, as well as help shape policy, strategy, and program execution. Ultimately, these assessments help us bolster the Navy’s inclusive culture and diverse team.
“I fully expect all levels of Surface Force leadership to recognize existing diversity biases and actively work to eliminate their influence on our ability to recruit, promote, and retain the best military and civilian warfighters,” said Vice Admiral Tom Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Forces, when addressing this critical personnel readiness issue.
An inculcation of the “power of diversity” across the surface enterprise throughout the last two decades has put the surface community on a positive path toward bringing real equality to the opportunities available for all in the surface fleet. Our 15-year trend of increased female accession, our 13-year trend of increased diversity for senior officers, and our 12-year trend of increased diversity throughout surface force enlisted ranks are all demonstrative of our commitment to recognizing and recruiting talent across the nation’s population.
With this information in mind, it is important for the surface community to create a culture that is welcoming, challenging, and rewarding for all – we must respect the fact that we are in competition with Fortune 500 companies to attract and retain talent.
In 2007, then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullen issued guidance focusing on execution, in which he said, “Diversity is a leadership issue, and everyone is a leader. Through our communications, education, policies, programs and conduct, each of us must actively foster environments where people are valued, respected, and provided the opportunity to reach their full personal and professional potential.”
The surface community is proud of the work it has done to promote deserving mentors and role models for the young diverse talent entering the community. As an example, we have outstanding female role models serving throughout the Navy’s ranks; from the Navy’s highest-ranking woman, Admiral Michelle Howard wearing three leadership hats – as commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa – to all but two of our surface ships having female leadership in their chief petty officer ranks.
In the surface warfare officer ranks, the quality of leadership provided by the female contingent is extraordinary. In total we have three active-duty flag-level officers who have blazed a trail, and smashed a few stereotypes along the way – lodestars for so many behind them. And following not too far behind are the next generations of high-performance officers. We have 15 females currently serving as commanders-at-sea (and 11 more in fleet-up tours), 82 women selected for command-at-sea, 25 percent of year group 2008 being retained for department head roles, and year group 2016 being the largest female accessioning in the community’s history.
That being said, the entire surface force still has the responsibility to lean forward. We must address and overcome obstacles to allow surface Sailors to reach their full personal and professional potential. Particularly pertinent to the female ranks is the goal of achieving full integration across all platforms, demonstrating continued retention growth, and maintaining strong female enlisted khaki representation at all levels. The community has come a long way, but there is still much to be covered.
In his recently released strategy document, “Return to Sea Control,” Rowden puts heavy emphasis on managing, “the extraordinary talent that exists within our surface force with a view towards building depth, breadth, and experience for the future.” He goes on to say that “tomorrow’s challenges demand we engage the most creative and influential minds and attract and retain the best and most qualified people.”
Warfighting excellence in the surface fleet can only be optimized when we fully respect the dignity of every individual, incorporate their talent into our planning processes, and value the time and skills they invest with us. Diversity allows different viewpoints to be put on the table when addressing issues and promotes a culture of critical thinking. We demand a warfighting spirit; our Sailors deserve the proper resources, tools, and training necessary for mission accomplishment!