Army senior leaders continue to prioritize efforts to advance diversity, equality, and inclusion across the ranks, including a series of national listening sessions and finding ways to better select leaders.
In June, Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville announced "Project Inclusion," the operational arm of the Army People Strategy’s five-year plan for DEI.
The Army is determined to put systems in place to create a positive work environment and understand the needs of all personnel, said E. Casey Wardynski, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs.
"Our goal is to bring them together to build a strong common culture that supports the development of cohesive teams" to accomplish the Army's mission, Wardynski said during a media event Thursday.
To do this, Army leaders have participated in an ongoing series of listening sessions, with the most recent event taking place at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
Each session allows Soldiers and civilians to openly discuss issues that impact readiness and inclusiveness, said Anselm Beach, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for equity and inclusion.
"Soldiers and civilians need [the opportunity] to invest in these policies," Beach said. "We want to make a full investment and get it as close to 'right,' as possible."
Although COVID-19 has kept many leaders from meeting and interacting in person, Army personnel still have shown their willingness to participate in each listening session, he added.
Personnel at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, will be able to participate in the next virtual listening session on Sept. 29, G-1 officials said. Army leaders have also scheduled online or in-person visits to Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, in October; and sessions at Fort Benning, Georgia; and Fort Stewart, Georgia, in November. Sessions in South Korea; Hawaii; and Fort Irwin, California, are being planned for December.
Additional sessions are slated to take place at many other Army locations in 2021.
"There have been a lot of people who are engaged in these listening sessions," Beach added. "Not only are they sharing their life experiences, but they are also forward-thinking. Their ideas are not focused on what is going on right now." They are also centered "on where the Army should be heading" in the future.
The Army continues to be at the forefront of change as the force shifts the conversation around the construct of DEI, Beach said.
"We are moving beyond a [one-dimensional] description about diversity," said Beach, adding that the term "diversity" is more than just a visual representation of the force.
"If people feel as though they need to have one of each [person] to ensure there is diversity, that will create tokenism," he added. In turn, the Army looks to leverage "diversity by ensuring that we bring the skills and talents" of all Soldiers and civilians to bear.
Part of the Army People Strategy also includes efforts to improve talent management and processes on how the force acquires, employs, and retains personnel.
The Army is developing a 21st-century approach to talent management, starting with the officer corps, said Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-1. Leaders now have the option to evaluate and assign officers based on their knowledge, skills, behaviors, and preferences.
It is important to "create an environment where every single Soldier [and civilian], regardless of their race, gender, religion, or background, has opportunities to excel -- warranted off their proven and demonstrated talents," Brito said.
Some of the changes for officers include the Battalion Commander and Colonels Command Assessment Programs, or BCAP and CCAP respectively, which now ensure the best leaders step into critical leadership roles after going through multiple assessments.
The Army has also launched the Talent-Based Branching program, or TBB, a market approach that addresses a cadet's branch preference, Wardynski said. Previously, the Army would review an officer's overall class performance to match their career path to the force's needs. Under TBB, future leaders will now have a choice of branch predetermined by their talents and interest.
To bolster diversity and talent across the force, the Army will also engage with science, technology, engineering and math high school students through the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, Wardynski said.
"One of the goals of JROTC is to inspire young adults into service," he added. "We are in 10% of the high schools in America. We are creating a STEM JROTC curriculum focused initially on cybersecurity and coding, to build interest in those fields."