Photos will be eliminated from promotion and selection boards

First Sgt. Kilpatrick Jackson from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, questions a Soldier during a virtual promotion board on April 29 at the brigade headquarters, Fort Carson, Colo. Senior leaders announced June 25 that photos will be removed from promotion boards beginning in August.

WASHINGTON – Starting in August, photos will be eliminated from promotion and selection boards as the Army launches “Project Inclusion” to identify practices that inadvertently discriminate, senior leaders announced June 25.

The project is a holistic effort to listen to Soldiers, civilians and family members and enact initiatives to promote diversity and equity, according to Secretary of the Army Ryan. D. McCarthy. “A lot has to be done to address the symbolic challenges we face that could create divisiveness within our ranks,” he told reporters.

Leaders looked at a recent study that determined, regardless of race or gender, people looking at photos tend to have an unconscious bias toward individuals with similar characteristics. Further, DA photos provide minimal information compared to the rest of a promotion board file, G1 officials said.

During an experiment in the pre-decisional study, researchers ran two identical boards. In the one that did not contain photos, they found the outcomes for women and minorities improved. The results contributed to the decision to remove the photos.

Project Inclusion will enact a series of other initiatives in the next few months to help build a diverse, adaptive and cohesive force, assured Anselm Beach, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for equity and inclusion.

“We, as a leadership team, recognize the need to take a harder look at ourselves and make sure we’re doing all we can to have a holistic effort to listen to our Soldiers, our civilians and our families and to enact initiatives that promote diversity, equity and inclusion,” McCarthy said.

In the coming weeks, the Army inspector general and members of the Army Equity and Inclusion Agency will join senior leaders as they visit installations, said Under Secretary of the Army James McPherson. During each visit, leaders will engage in open and transparent conversations about race, diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We know we have to do more,” McCarthy said. “We are going to have very hard and uncomfortable conversations.”

McPherson said he wants to hear Soldiers’ thoughts about current events and will listen to their ideas on inclusivity. Each listening session will look to identify any impact to mission readiness caused by current social issues.

“If a Soldier (or civilian) is distracted by an issue, then they are not fully present to accomplish the mission,” Beach said. “Understanding those impacts allow the Army to enhance mission readiness,” which can lead to new policy or adjustments to an operating environment.

Each session would create a safe place for Soldiers to express themselves without fear of reprisal. By creating an open dialogue, people will have a chance to understand and support each other, Beach added.

“This is about leadership,” said Gen. Joseph Martin, vice Chief of Staff of the Army. “Leaders have to set conditions for these discussions to happen and be productive. They’ve got to create an environment where a Soldier feels safe, and it’s an environment that’s free of disbelief.”

McCarthy said leaders also will examine racial disparities within the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Army Inspector General, Lt. Gen. Leslie Smith, and Judge Advocate General, Lt. Gen. Charles Pede, will evaluate findings after 60 days and attempt to address the causes of any differences.

Changes under Project Inclusion also include the reconstitution of the Army Diversity Council. Led by the secretary of the Army and chief of staff, the council will prioritize diversity programs throughout the Army, all while addressing symbolic and systemic issues, Beach said.

“We must have a better understanding (of) the challenges every day that ethnic minorities may face,” McCarthy said. “Are there systemic flaws within the promotion system or are there things that may be of a symbolic nature that cause division within our ranks?”

The force also is making changes to the Army People Strategy with the addition of the “Expanding Diverse Talent of the Army Officer Corps Strategic Plan.” It will focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives to strengthen the Army’s ability to acquire, develop and employ current and future leaders. Similarly, the Army will continue to expand its outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions.

The Army is further considering whether the military justice system is more likely to investigate a specific Soldier due to unconscious bias. Accurately assessing the investigation process could be a challenge, they admitted, as race and ethnicity information is rarely documented during this stage. Nonetheless, the enduring effort will not only improve equality, but make the force stronger, noted Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville.

“It’s really more about inclusion,” he said. “It’s not just about percentages. It’s not just about numbers. It’s about making people feel they are a valued member of the team and that you recognize the importance of having different perspectives.”