Tags: Jeff Withington
The role diversity ought to play in the Navy’s personnel policies has been the subject of much attention in the blogosphere (CDR Salamander’s Diversity Thursdays) and traditional media. I hope to examine the potential effects of diversity in the military and offer a new way forward in the public debate regarding diversity in the military.
First, let’s establish that the Navy’s policies should propel the service in the direction of effectiveness. Furthermore, diversity is a means to an end and advocates of diversity should realize its hard to sell the circular logic that “efforts to diversify personnel are good because diversity is good.” Using this language, diversity is both the means and the end! However, can a connection be made between diversity and effectiveness, which should be the ultimate goal of every policy? I think so.
I, too, was skeptical of this claim regarding the benefits of diversity, but the core arguments in favor of meaningful diversity are rather simple. Dr. Scott Page, a researcher in modeling complex systems, explains: “Diverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/better ways of solving it. People from different backgrounds have varying ways of looking at problems, what I call “tools.” The sum of these tools is far more powerful in organizations with diversity than in ones where everyone has gone to the same schools, been trained in the same mold and thinks in almost identical ways.”
It’s important to note that Dr. Page is commenting on cognitive diversity, not identity diversity (although is a connection between the two). His book, The Difference, opens with a discussion of how diversity advanced the ends of the military during WWII. The success of Bletchley Park in breaking the German Enigma code owe in large part to the diverse nature of the team of mathematicians, philosophers, chess champions, and crossword puzzle whizzes! When you have a team composed of individuals who each approach a complex problem in a unique manner, you can find the most effective solution. As the CNO’s Diversity Policy explains, “Diversity of thoughts, ideas, and competencies of our people, keeps our Navy strong, and empowers the protection of the very freedoms and opportunities we enjoy each and every day.”
The Marine Corps’ Lioness Program is a modern example of how diversity in the military is used towards effective ends. ““I don’t think there was a Marine out there who didn’t understand the importance of having females there,…We didn’t look at them as females serving at a checkpoint, we just saw another Marine,” said one Marine. Would the US military of 50-60 years ago think to engage a foreign population of women? Would it have done so effectively?
When advocates of diversity wander from the task of strengthening the Navy/Marine Corps team and merely understand diversity as a means to itself, then diversity policies are rightfully criticized. However, diversity is clearly a tool we can use to strengthen the Navy and Marine Corps when we understand its power and effects.