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.

Posted by Jeffrey Withington in Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Stevekaw

    Bravo! Finally a blog post on USNI that does not equate diversity with the downfall of the Republic and destruction of the USN.

  • RickWilmes

    “Diversity is a means to an end.”

    What is the end? This sounds like pragmatism.

    Cognitive diversity?????

    What exactly is cognitive diversity? A think a valid definition is in order.

  • Byron

    Stand by for heavy rolls!

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Midn Withington,

    My compliments on a very well-written, cogent, and incisive post. You have certainly reframed “diversity” as it needs to be considered. True diversity of intellect and experience is indeed a strength. Differing points of view, experience, jobs and responsibilities, all those things bring a multi-faceted perspective that allows for as complete an examination of a task or topic as time and resources allow.

    I hold fast to Dr. Page’s assertions every day in my civilian job. When a complex task or project or policy issue requires consideration, I look for a cross section of experience and viewpoints and expertise. This is also true of any military task assigned. (An Operational Planning Team, or OPT, is built on the very concept of cross-pollenation of warfighting expertise for the orders process.)

    Despite assertions some may have to the contrary, everyone who is a successful leader and manager believes in that “cognitive diversity” you described so well. When “diversity” becomes a euphemism for the politics of preference in promoting the rights and rewards of some self-defining category of people over others more deserving, this is where the objections begin.

  • Chaps


    The Diversity Policy (as quoted) is one thing. Diversity implementation is something else, nothing but check-in-the-box counting of skin color and ethnic origin. It goes no deeper than that and it HAS greatly undermined the USN.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Yes, plain language and straight talk are much better than talking in code. Not much practiced these days, but better.

    Diversity among individuals working towards a common goal indeed has synergistic unforseen positive results in many cases.

    Political interest groups of hyphenated-“americans” who create goals for advancement and plum assignments of members of interest groups, based on statistical measures whose “improvement” becomes “the highest priority of the” (organization whose reason for existence has nothing to do with preferential treatment of ANY group), are anti-merit. They inevitably result – in the long run – with a loss of both competence and motivation within the larger organization. As we experience every day, in and out of D0D and USG.

    Note that if you treat racial etc., etc., politics as a zero sum game, it becomes one.

    If we continue to be divided, eventually we will be conquered. All of us. Regardless of race, creed, sexual (fill in the blank), or any other way you care to slice the populace.

    Prediction? Pointless. Just fasten your seat belt…

  • Very good overview of the difference between diversity (good) and Diversity (bad).

    The sad thing is that the Navy seems to be focused on the most superficial and useless type of Diversity – that of source-DNA, or claimed source-DNA.

    The real diversity is that which you describe – cognitive diversity. That is where you get your strength. A focus on sectarian Diversity – that is where you get friction on the deckplates and convoluted exercises in defending the undefendable by senior leadership.

    Well done MIDN Withington – well done.

  • B. Walthrop

    A post and comments from URR and CDR S. that I can finally agree with.

    The problem with the USN’s diversity “policy” to date has not been the stated ends, but the metrics chosen to measure the means.

    Metrics just don’t measure performance. Metrics shape performance. The USN has chose lazy metrics to measure (shape in my world view) the means of diversity. Lazy metrics will lead to poor results (although not so dire as some have suggested).

    Great post. Thanks J. Withington.


  • I once sat in a brief from an MIT professor who noted that in his studies it was cognitive diversity that was best for identifying solutions to a problem. Executing those solutions most effectively, though, required unity.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “A post and comments from URR and CDR S. that I can finally agree with.”

    That’s CRAZY talk! Get ahold of yourself!

  • Matt Hawks

    BZ – Great post.

    The Navy (really the federal government’s) poor framing of diversity has in my view led to a weakening of trust. Whenever you see someone other than a “white male” in a leadership position, do you question their qualifications somewhere in the back of your mind? Be honest. I find myself studying biographies just to reassure myself that the best candidate was selected for the job. I attribute this questioning attitude toward non-“white male” leadership to the Navy’s poor handling of diversity issue.

  • Anathema

    Well done! Further proof that in this arena one generation fully understands both sides of the issue, while another talks about one side while striving for and measuring the other.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “one generation fully understands…”

    Not letting them off that easy. Those who have made such a mess with their “Diversity Industry” know damned well what they are doing. Naive stupidity can be fixed. Intentional malevolence, such as from those who emphasize and exacerbate differences for their own profit and power, is not so easily eradicated.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    *Burma Shave*

    In addition, those senior leaders, especially military ones, who buy into and promote the destructiveness that the “Diversity Industry” brings about in order to curry favor with their bosses are little better than those whose corrosiveness they promote.

  • Anathema

    URR – we are in agreement on both of your points. But, like Ben W and Stevekaw, I didn’t want to see this discussion move to far away from Mr. Withington’s excellent observations.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Your comment made an assertion I challenge. And it is definitely on topic.

  • jwithington

    Wow, wasn’t sure that I would get agreement across the board like this. If you agree with my premise, then it’s time to “take back” diversity from those who have misused it!

  • Anathema

    URR – just to be clear…I believe Mr Withington’s generation is the one that “gets it” – not the boomer generation writing and interpreting the policy…

  • RickWilmes

    It looks like I am not the only one who thinks Page’s book is based on pragmatism.

    “Here is a book that I think is crucially important by Scott Page who teaches in a variety of departments at the University of Michigan. What he offers is a consequentialist – to my mind essentially a pragmatist – defense of diversity.”

    Jeff, I am wondering if you could go into more depth about what the author means by cognitive diversity.  How does he classify cognitive diversity?  Are there different types? 

  • jwithington


    Dr. Page certainly recognizes the different forms of diversity and goes into them in great detail towards the beginning of the book. Rather than copying and pasting extensively, I’ll refer you to his website which has an excerpt to the intro of the book:

    He explains four forms of cognitive diversity on page 4.

  • RickWilmes

    Thanks Jeff,

    When I get a chance I will read the Chapter you provided.  I want to know what does “cognitive diversity” actually mean and is it a valid concept.  

    I did find a recent review and I am close to certain that pragmatism is at work here.  See below.

    Alas, as a “fresh voice” in the affirmative action debate The Difference comes up short and will hardly withstand the criticism of skeptics. An anonymous blogger on with obvious experience of the real world not captured in Page’s models may have the last word here:
    [Page’s argument] strikes me as a pragmatic reason for selecting a group that is heterogeneous with respect to cognitive style, skills, innate abilities, personality type, philosophies, even politics, but it doesn’t strike me as a defense of actual diversity practices [today in America] which ignore all of the above and focus only on skin color (and sex)….Given that there are ways to actually assess all of those kinds of things that actually matter for better group decision making…[there is] no reason to use skin color or sex as poor proxy measures. (
    Knowledgeable, fair-minded, and worldly people can only say, “Amen.”

  • jwithington

    Rick, your criticism is well founded. Page is an academic whose book is at its strongest promoting and explaining the theory of diversity.

    Once we have this knowledge, it’s up to use to try and design better systems for selecting diversity. It seems to be a very difficult challenge to me as we’re essentially attempting to design for randomness. But it’s something that can make us a stronger Navy so it’s something for which we have to try.

  • RickWilmes


    I have read the link you provided and it looks like I will have to read the book. Several red flags have been raised from my reading. Two examples are

    1. The author writes, “We cannot say whether diversity is good or bad unless we first know what diversity is. By diversity, I mean cognitive differences.

    What are cognitive differences? How do they compare to cognitive errors? I would think that cognitive errors would be bad. A cognitive difference(if there is such a thing) would be a metaphysical fact like different skin color. Different skin color is neither good or bad it just is.

    2. The author writes, ‘As Ayn Rand wrote, “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong”

    Did Ayn Rand really write this? What happens if both your premises are wrong?

    Both the quotes I cited have footnotes which is why I think I need to read the book. At this point, I see several Irish Pennants and my experience has proved that once you start pulling on those loose strands everything begins to unravel.

  • RickWilmes

    *Burma Shave*

    I should provide an example where two premises are not true but also contradict each other.

    1) The earth is the center of the universe.
    2) The moon is the center of the universe.