All active-duty U.S. Coast Guard members have been encouraged to get involved with diversity activities “to help support the actions needed to improve our service” after a new report found challenges in the recruitment and accession of under-represented minorities and concerns among surveyed women and minorities about USCG culture.
The research from RAND’s Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center, which was requested by USCG in its quest to study and improve diversity in the service, found that 31 percent of Coast Guard members are racial or ethnic minorities compared with a 42 percent average across all services, and the number of women and minorities declines as rank increases as more under-represented members go into administrative roles instead of operational roles. Women and black personnel also have lower rates of retention.
“The most common leadership-related theme was a lack of transparency, speed, or forcefulness in senior leadership’s actions to combat discrimination,” the report said in its summary of open-ended comments on the surveys. “For example, there was discussion of the lack of action on the Confederate flag. Respondents also described witnessing a lack of action when an EO dispute was reported and wanting leadership to do a better job self-policing offensive behavior. Some responses also mentioned a lack of diversity in leadership specifically, including race but also in terms of graduation from the USCGA in the types of jobs that led to senior leadership. Other responses discussed the importance of the level of leadership, commenting that racial and gender discrimination was a bigger problem among midlevel leadership than at other levels.”
In focus groups and on surveys, members reported believing they were treated differently because of their gender or race/ethnicity, and “focus group participants also perceived that retaliation was a common response to personnel making allegations of discrimination.”
Nelson Lim, lead author of the report, said that “the lack of diversity in the Coast Guard is cumulative and compounds with every step in the career lifecycle,” and the service “needs to take much more decisive action to meet executive and congressional branch demands to improve diversity top-to-bottom.”
The RAND authors recommended 40 systemic improvements including recruiting efforts led by data-driven outreach, expanding mentorship opportunities and increasing the transparency of the promotion process, examining the root cause of why many minority service members are choosing to leave early in their careers, and ensuring current policies address members’ concerns about racism in their communities.
In a message to the service after the release of the report, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support Vice Adm. Paul F. Thomas said that “breaking down barriers to recruiting and retention by creating a more inclusive workplace is an all-hands-on-deck effort” and unlawful discrimination, disparate treatment, and conscious or unconscious bias “are inconsistent with our core values, and have no place in the Coast Guard.”
“I strongly encourage all members to read the report and discuss the findings at your upcoming Leadership and Diversity Advisory Council (LDAC) meetings and in other similar venues,” he said.
Thomas called the report’s recommendations useful and said they “will inform current and future human capital investment decisions” as the service aims for improvements in recruitment and retention. “Although the study’s focus concentrated on women and underrepresented minorities, many of the areas studied and associated recommendations will benefit and improve the work environment for all service members,” he said. “The Coast Guard will strategically develop solutions to improve Coast Guard workforce challenges found in the research.”
The new study and the Personnel Readiness Task Force (PRTF), launched in January 2019 at Coast Guard Headquarters and remaining in place until August 2022, “are integral to ongoing efforts to recruit, train, support, and retain a mission ready total workforce that reflects the diversity and best talent of our nation.”
“As announced by the commandant in his State of the Coast Guard Address, the PRTF and the Coast Guard’s senior leadership team have been exploring, developing, and implementing forward-leaning policy changes to address the recommendations of the Women’s Retention Study and now the Underrepresented Minority Recruiting & Retention Study,” Thomas said. “Some of these improvements include using surge staffing to backfill members on parental leave, easing the existing tattoo policy, removing the single parent disqualifiers, updating uniform and grooming standard policies to be more inclusive, and revising outdated weight standards that disproportionally affect women. The PRTF has provided and will continue to provide the workforce regular communication on their progress to take action based on these studies and their efforts to improve organizational readiness.”
“In addition to making the aforementioned improvements and addressing the findings and recommendations from the Holistic Study & Analysis for Recruiting & Retention of Underrepresented Minorities, the Coast Guard has and will continue to execute the 2019-2023 Diversity & Inclusion Action Plan,” he continued. “This plan directs the training of 125 Diversity Change Agents to support commands around the globe in helping promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In addition, the Coast Guard has instituted a prohibition of the public display of divisive symbols to include the confederate battle flag, mandated preventing and addressing workplace harassment training, made needed updates to the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative program, updated sexual assault prevention and response recovery policies and Civil Rights Manual Anti-Harassment and Hate Incident procedures, conducted an extremism stand down, designated a senior advisor on D&I, commissioned an officer recruiting corps that will be operating in strategic locations to enable access to underserved communities, and stood up a fully operational CG Mentoring Program that will enable CG members and our affiliated affinity groups to connect to one another in a structured mentoring relationship.”
Thomas said the study was consistent with Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz’s guiding principles of “ready, relevant, and responsive” and is “part of the ongoing effort to recruit, develop and retain a workforce that reflects the diverse fabric of the United States, and the beginning of a conversation specific to the recruiting and retention of active-duty men and women in our workforce.”
“All active-duty Coast Guard members are encouraged to get involved with their command’s LDACS and CG Affinity Groups to help support the actions needed to improve our service,” he added.