Earlier this week a colleague was kind enough to share some very insightful feedback on a selection process in which few have meaningful visibility. Within his feedback, I was struck by a statement regarding the role of diversity in the selection process. Though he was very careful to clarify diversity had no meaningful impact in the selection, when it came to checking a box in the application regarding the self-reporting of one's race/ethnicity, he did "Recommend against "Declined to Respond" option." The reason why I gave that statement so much consideration is because I see it as yet another disconnect between our actions and the desired effect. We acknowledge that the diversity we seek is diversity of thought, but the process through which we are choosing to get there is based on a rather significant assumption. That assumption is people who look different, think different.
Over the years, I have met people who look nothing like me, yet think much like me. At the same time, I have met many people who looked a lot like me (poor souls), yet thought very differently. Three weeks ago I had the privilege of addressing our most recent Information Warfare Basic Course graduates. Not surprisingly the audience was predominately white males with a few women and otherwise diverse students sprinkled throughout...all there on their own merit. As part of my talk I spoke on this very subject...Diversity of Thought. While doing so, I acknowledged that we by and large looked the same and began canvassing the group. Raise your hands if you are...
A liberal arts major?
A product of USNA? OCS? STA-21?
A Lateral Transfer?
Prior enlisted? Information Dominance Corps Rate? Other Rate?
There were a few other categories, but I think you get the point. Turns out the audience was pretty diverse after all, but by a completely different set of metrics. That said, there is no way to measure "Diversity of Thought" given any of our selection processes (everything is selection by proxy with no personal interface between the selection authority and the candidate). In fact, over time we appear to do our best to promote a cookie cutter mindset where over time we funnel our best and brightest through similar carer paths where we "benefit" from similar experiences, grow similar knowledge, skills and abilities and make our way towards a singular mindset. So yes, we can ensure we have diverse physical characteristics, but clearly don't seem to be overly interested in ensuring diversity of thought. Despite the fact that the diversity measures I used when addressing the class were deliberate upon their selection to our wardroom (that was my last job, so I had a good idea about the educational/experiential diversity before I asked for a show if hands), so will be the migration towards a singular mindset as their careers progress. It appears that regardless of what you bring to the table, as you near the head of the table the variance in individual thought will diminish. We will make sure of that!
We continue to say we are blind to race, ethnicity and gender but we want people to check a voluntary box? I respect the opinions of my colleagues and this person in particular. Even so, I will never advise a Sailor as to how or whether to check a diversity box.