Defense Secretary Outlines Efforts to Combat Racial Inequity in Armed Forces

Defense Secretary Mark Esper outlined a series of immediate actions the Department of Defense will take to address race inequality and inclusion in the US military, an issue that has taken on new significance in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Blacks by police officers in recent months.

The steps, which Esper publicized last week include removing photographs from promotion packets, reviewing hairstyles and grooming standards in order to ensure that they are not racially biased, and a series of training and education initiatives to address racial prejudice and unconscious bias.

EsperDefense Secretary Mark Esper

Esper revealed the steps at the first meeting of the Defense Department’s newly formed Board on Diversity and Inclusion.

“The actions I am directing are a necessary first step, but I have no illusion that these initial actions will fully address the concerns many of us know and which I have personally heard from many Service members,” Esper said after the board’s meeting, according to a Pentagon statement.

“These actions identified today will better ensure a diverse workforce at all levels, an inclusive environment, and equal opportunity for all who serve,” he continued. “But hard work remains as efforts to shift our culture requires steadfast attention.” The effort, he said, would make “the US military a more cohesive, ready and capable force in defense of our great nation.”

The Pentagon statement also noted a  three-pronged approach to tackle  “discrimination, prejudice and bias in all ranks of the Armed Forces,” including a short-term “spring” to identify immediate actions, the creation of a board on diversity and inclusion, and the long-term creation of a committee on diversity and inclusion.

“Today, as prescribed in the mid-term effort of the three-pronged approach, the DoD Board on Diversity and Inclusion met at the Pentagon for the first time as a group,” the statement said. “The Secretary met with members of the board as they outlined the Department’s way forward on addressing diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity.”