They say “a picture is worth a thousand words”
– but when it comes to promotion/command selection boards in the Navy, perhaps these pictures adversely affect the selection process – and don’t allow our records to TRULY "speak for themselves.”
Enlisted Sailors (E-6 to E-9) and officers up for promotion in the Navy know that each selection board (for advancement/command) requires an updated picture to go along with our “package.” Before reading the rest of this, it’s worth noting (up front) that while the Army and Navy require this picture, the Air Force and Coast Guard no longer require it (I am unsure about the USMC).
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to get to serve as a “recorder” for a selection board (an absolute MUST for anyone who plans to make a career of the Navy – you get to “see how the sausage is made”). After I returned, one of my mentors asked me if I thought it was a “fair” process. I told the officer that it was, but I thought it could be “fairer,” but wasn’t sure exactly how. Below, I will argue that we should TRULY allow our records to “speak for themselves” (a phrase I am certain you’ve heard throughout your career) by (1) removing the picture, (2) removing references to gender, and (3) removing the ability to speak on behalf of a Sailor you’ve worked.
1. Removing the picture: When I was a recorder on a board, I asked one of the senior officers that was a board member why the pictures were required (the pictures were the first thing we looked at when grading AND reviewing a record in front of the board (make SURE your picture is updated within the last two years before you go up for promotion)).
The officer stated that pictures ensure that the servicemember is maintaining uniform and fitness standards. Yet, what does the way that someone looks tell you about their fitness? Our FITREPS include only a P/M/F for our PFA scores, so isn’t that enough to determine if someone is “fit enough to serve.” If we want to determine fitness levels, why not include the OUTSTANDING/EXCELLENT/GOOD/SATISFACTORY/FAILURE scores (I am CERTAIN that would motivate everyone to give 100% on their PRTs)? How can you tell by looking at a picture of someone how fit they are – and do we want this "evaluation" to be a major factor in determining advancement?
* The DOWNSIDE to pictures. If the only reason that the Navy needs pictures is to evaluate whether Sailors maintain standards, we should also be aware of the downsides to this approach. I will be honest, I am a white male who is rarely the “other,” but (like all of you) I have worked with a diverse group of Sailors in my career and (like all of you) I want to ensure that everyone has the best chance to succeed based on their performance.
If you think that you don’t notice someone’s gender and/or race, try taking this test (it will only take 5 minutes). Please do so before proceeding (it will really open your eyes): https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
(a) How does knowing someone's GENDER impact selection? Before you make any judgments, please read this article (http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2013/le ... ying-field
), this one (http://leaderonomics.com/articles/women ... tereotypes
) or watch this clip from the Daily Show (http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/09yfp ... tled-women
(b) How does knowing someone’s RACE impact selection? Before you say “I am colorblind,” please read this article (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6919.html
2. Removing the gender from FITREPs. If we know that we evaluate men and women leaders differently (whether we want to or not), why not just leave the gender references out of the discussion? Does it matter whether it was a “he” or a “she” that led the operations department? Or is it about the performance itself.
3. Inside of the selection board, board members can only speak POSITIVELY on behalf of the servicemembers they’ve worked with in the past. Although the intent is to prevent adverse comments being made about servicemembers that can’t answer for themselves, the reality is that this rule puts those servicemembers who DON’T know one of the randomly assigned board members at a DISTINCT disadvantage to those that happen to know a board member. Why not just let the records speak for themselves?
These minor tweaks will not “fix” the system entirely, as they will put MUCH more emphasis on the officers writing/signing the FITREPs that the board sees (and the subjective decisions those officers make on who is the “best” and how “competent” they are), BUT those “raters” at least get to see the officer/enlisted Sailor enough to “judge” their performance. The decision is less about what you look like – and more about what you do.
For those that might be interested in how we can go about addressing some of the implicit biases we all have, please consider the following articles:
* http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-Uni ... 082613.pdf
* http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/feeli ... workplaces
I am intrigued to hear your thoughts.