The Defense Department’s Personnel and Readiness directorate is weighing whether to strip names and gender pronouns from promotion boards, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

During a remote town hall-style forum from the Pentagon on Friday, Esper said he has directed his team to consider whether to strike identifying information such as names and gender from evaluations and promotion packets to prevent unconscious bias from tainting the decision-making process.

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“We are trying to root these practices out that might enable unconscious bias. … I’ve asked [the] directorate to go out and come back within 45 to 60 days to present a plan by which we could strike references to names, references to gender that may trigger unconscious bias. It’s to make sure it’s a merit-based system and solely a merit-based system,” Esper said.

 

The response was to a question from Army Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Fadeyi, the first sergeant of the 47th Combat Support Hospital at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, who was born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. at age 5.

“With a name, the gender and possibly race of that soldier would be present for the board members,” Fadeyi told Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and his senior enlisted adviser, Chief Master Sgt. Ramón Colón-López.

Esper issued a military-wide directive Wednesday barring the use of photos in promotion boards and ordering a review of hair and grooming standards to eliminate racial bias.

He also promised that the DoD would update its equal opportunity and diversity inclusion policies, conduct research on prejudice and bias across the department and services, and develop training that “enables commanders to have relevant, candid and effective discussion.”

“These actions identified today will better ensure a diverse workforce at all levels, an inclusive environment, and equal opportunity for all who serve. But hard work remains as efforts to shift our culture require steadfast attention,” Esper said.

The Army announced in June that it would stop using photos in promotion boards, and Navy officials said they planned to review the practice.

The Air Force required them only under some circumstances, but Marine Corps officials said they would continue requiring them for the boards, which review promotions for the enlisted ranks of staff sergeant and above and captain through major general.

The Coast Guard does not require photos and, last year, it dropped gender-specific pronouns and first names from evaluations and promotion packages to eliminate possible bias.

Leaders at the Pentagon and within the individual services began speaking up about racial equality and discussing policy changes to promote diversity in the ranks following the protest movement that evolved after the death May 25 of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.

Esper promised more changes to ensure that the DoD is a workplace that promotes equal opportunity — something he said would bolster effectiveness and morale.

He has established a DoD Board on Diversity and Inclusion, which is responsible for developing steps to address those issues, and is starting the process of establishing a Defense Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion in the Armed Services, similar to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, to provide long-term guidance on diversity issues and equality.

“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.

During the town hall, Colon-Lopez said the department is committed to ensuring that everyone in the ranks, regardless of race, color or gender, has equal opportunity to excel in the armed services.

“We can do better when it comes to the boards, but we also want to make sure that we implement a system that is not going to hinder your opportunities for promotion,” Colón-López said.

— Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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