Courageous Conversations: Inclusion and diversity in the Navy

Courageous Conversations

(WAVY) — The U.S. Navy is looking to make a change when it comes to inclusion and diversity.

Leaders recently hired someone they’re calling a “cultural champion” with 20 plus years of human resources and change management to help get the job done.

Dr. Charles Barber is the new senior advisor of inclusion and diversity. He recently sat down with 10 On Your Side for one of our Courageous Conversations.

The Navy has been navigating the matter of racial equality in the ranks for years. Many senior sailors see the progress already made as proof of smooth sailing, but there’s an undercurrent Barber wants to bring to the surface.

“I know there’s been  a lot of debate on how you define systemic racism or how you define systemic inequalities, but I think the proof is pretty much in the pudding just based off some of the things that we’ve seen.”

What Barber sees are numbers that don’t add up. About 20 percent of enlisted sailors are Black while only about 9 percent are officers.

“I’ll be honest with you … we know that some of the things that we’re seeing from a demographic perspective is probably a result of hiring practices and things that have happened in the past 10 to 15 years ago. But nevertheless, we still need to look at putting some controls and some inclusion and diversity initiatives in place now so we can rectify those things moving forward.”  

The Navy is hearing from sailors who are now freely sharing their experiences at listening sessions.

“Regarding lack of leadership engagement, or the perception that there is less career advancement opportunities,” Barber said.

Since perception can become a person’s reality, Barber believes there’s a missing link between compliance and culture. Part of his job is to figure out why.

“We’re conducting a lot of what I call ‘barrier analysis.’ We’re looking at those things that impact hiring, recruiting, career advancement opportunities, the way our leaders engage with our sailors. But we’re not just going to look at those things solely from a compliance standpoint. We want to look at this from a cultural standpoint, too, because if we truly want to get a commitment for long-term change in this area, we have to address this from a culture perspective.”

He said what you see in society can bleed into the workplace.

“And we want to take a look at some of our policies and processes. We might have some unintended consequences that we didn’t realize before.”

It’s not always obvious.

“Some of these barriers we’re looking at, they are very less overt forms of racism and inequality that have been embedded in some of our normal practices over time, and quite frankly they’ve probably just become accepted.”

His plan for the Navy is to link inclusion and diversity with mission readiness. He’s going to give leaders a way to continuously diagnose symptoms and generate what he calls “get well plans.” He is confident the current leadership can make this happen. Specifically, Barber says Vice Admiral John Nowell is having courageous conversations of his own with peers.

“I’ve gotta tell you, I haven’t seen a senior leader take a problem like this with as much courage and integrity as he’s doing right now.”

Barber is aware there will be rough waters moving forward.

“Once we get that framework put in place hopefully these conversations will have subsided 15 to 20 years from now,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge but I think it’s a challenge worth taking on.”


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