Written by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft .
From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, today’s top organizations require people who are proficient, self-motivated, and adaptable to changes in an increasingly globalized world. Recruiting and retaining top talent is a foremost challenge for both the public and private sectors and, in order to remain competitive, our all-volunteer military force must adapt as well. To adapt means to create a working environment so desirous by others that we outcompete even the most popular of businesses. So how then, do we maintain this competitive edge?
It is simple: we build a diverse workforce. Why? Because diversity adds value. Cultivating a workforce that reflects the demographics of the society we serve enables diversity of thought, which directly contributes to our workforce’s capability for innovation, new approaches and fresh perspectives.
As your Commandant, I am committed to making progress in this complex world. I am pleased at the progress we are making toward building a more diverse workforce, particularly at our accession points. The U. S. Coast Guard Academy classes of 2018 and 2019 are nearly 33 percent minority and 38 percent women, which represents the highest level of gender and racial diversity in its 150-year history! Our enlisted and warrant workforce stands strong at 27 percent minority and 21 percent women, respectively. Our ties with the community continue to grow as I establish and maintain connections with the presidents, faculty and student bodies of seven minority serving institutions as well as I raise awareness of our College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative. In fact, as I write this, every CSPI billet is filled! This illustrates that we continue to attract students who have the talent and the fortitude to lead our organization into the 21st century.
But recruiting the best and the brightest only matters if we can develop and retain them. Our current retention rates for female and minority officers is concerning. At the 10-year mark, minority members of our Coast Guard depart at twice the rate of their non-minority counterparts. Advance this year group another 14 to 15 years – when they will receive their first look at flag officer selection – and just six percent of those minority officers remain on active duty versus 26 percent of their non-minority peers. The same trend can be seen in our enlisted ranks. We see a smaller percentage of enlisted females and minorities reach the 5 and 10 year marks than their counterparts.
I recently read See No Bias by Shankar Vedantam, where he cites studies highlighting the biases of some of the most determined civil rights advocates. Despite the fact that these advocates pave the way against bias and discrimination every day, studies showed that even they have their biases. Interestingly enough, some even tested to have biases against others who looked and were part of a community similar to their own. No one is immune.
Even though we’d like to imagine otherwise, we all have our biases. In order to develop both personally and professionally, we must be cognizant that these biases exist and recognize the impact that they have on our way life and thinking. We cannot become a more agile and capable organization without interacting with others who are different from ourselves. In order to grow, we must engage in diverse perspectives, consider alternative approaches and learn from the backgrounds of others who grew up differently than we did. It is in this interaction where we collectively become stronger.
Building a diverse and inclusive organization is not a spectator sport. It is a whole-of-effort; an all out contact sport.
We need Coast Guard leaders at all levels to form lasting relationships with local affinity groups and local minority serving institutions. How you spend your time is a direct reflection of your priorities. This week, I a spoke at the Association of Naval Services Officers and participated in a speed mentoring session. Over the past year, I engaged affinity groups such as the National Naval Officers Association and the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium. Later this month, I will speak at the Federal Asian Pacific American Council. By allocating my time accordingly, I have implicitly stated my priority.
The Coast Guard needs leaders to actively engage and mentor the next generation, in our enlisted and officer communities, in our civilian workforce and in our Auxiliary volunteers. We must look beyond the horizon. It compels mid-level leaders to reach out to our youngest and most impressionable members. While they learn from us, we can also learn from them. Together, we can create a team capable of performing our missions well into the 21st century and beyond.
It was our 17th Commandant, Adm. James Gracey who charted the course that integrated women into every operational facet of the Coast Guard more than 30 years ago. Since then, the Coast Guard has remained a model of integration across the Armed Forces. Let us continue to pave the way on diversity and inclusion. In doing so, we will position ourselves to be the employer of choice for Americans who seek to serve their Nation and uphold the principles and values of the Constitution of the United States.