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Department of Defense

United States Report on Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
  Initial Country Report (Sept, 2000). 

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Vernellia R. Randall
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 Although the military is one of the most racially and ethnically integrated institutions in the United States, inequities nevertheless persist. For this reason, policies and practices are under continual review and revision to ensure conformance with the institution's long-standing commitment to equal opportunity and non-discrimination.

Over the years, Department of Defense leadership has remained vigilant in order to sustain and improve the environment in which U.S. military members live and work. Unlike non-military equal opportunity programs that are based in law, Department of Defense military equal opportunity programs are based in Secretary of Defense policy. These programs are monitored internally through a process of Service reports and a system of compliance investigations. Accountability is stressed throughout the highest and lowest levels of the chain of command. Commanders at the unit level use assessment surveys to measure the effectiveness of equal opportunity guidance, practices and programs.

On November 22, 1999, the Secretary of Defense released two reports assessing equal opportunity progress from a Department of Defense perspective: a report on the Career Progression of Minority and Women Officers and a report on the Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey. Both reports are available on the World Wide Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/.

The report on the Career Progression of Minority and Women Officers study affirms equal opportunity successes while identifying areas that require continuing attention and effort. The study addressed in part the perceptions of service members, but its main thrust was to examine performance in providing equal opportunity in the military Services. The study determined that:  

From 1977 to 1997, representation of racial minorities and women among active duty commissioned officers more than doubled, from 7 percent to 15.3 percent for minority officers and from 5.9 percent to 14.1 percent for women officers. These patterns of increasing minority and female representation were true for all four Services.

Even during the post-Cold War force reduction, representation of women officers increased, as did the representation of Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities.

Women and minorities tend to be concentrated in administrative and supply areas and underrepresented in tactical operations, the area that yields two-thirds of the general and flag officers of the Services. Women and minorities are very much underrepresented in some fields such as aviation, although the trend is upwards.

Compared to White men, promotion rates for White women are about the same. But promotion rates for Black men and women are lower at some rank levels. Potential factors contributing to the different promotion rates for minorities and women are: educational/pre-commissioning preparation, initial assignments contributing to a "slow start," and limited access to peer and mentor networks.

Some minority and female members believe they are held to a higher standard than majority race and male colleagues and feel they must pass "tests" to demonstrate their worth on the job.

Officers who felt they had been discriminated against generally believed that an individual, rather than the military institution, committed the act.

Many women and minority officers felt that, overall, they had been treated fairly and that the equal opportunity climate was not better, but probably worse, in the private sector. The report on the Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey provided similar and corroborating information. The survey is the first of its kind and was administered to 76,000 military members from the enlisted to the officer ranks. The survey results reflected areas where the Department's actions have been successful and areas where the Department's actions require attention. Some of the key findings were:

There are differences in the way service members of different races and ethnic groups perceived the state of equal opportunity. Black service members tended to be more pessimistic about the degree of progress in equal opportunity than were members of other race or ethnic groups.

Many service members of all races and ethnic groups reported negative experiences they felt were based on their race or ethnicity. Service members reported having had such experiences both on military installations and in surrounding communities.

Minority service members were more likely than Whites to report being unfairly punished. Some 9 percent of Blacks, 6 percent of Hispanics, 5 percent of American Indian/Alaska Natives, and 4 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders reported being unfairly punished in comparison to only 2 percent of Whites.

Relatively small percentages of members in each racial/ethnic group said they experienced an incident of harassment or discrimination related to the military personnel system.

Service members perceived that there had been greater improvement in race and ethnic relations in the military than in civilian society and that opportunities and conditions were better in the military than in civilian society. In the memorandum transmitting the Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey report to the Secretaries of the Military Departments and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense William Cohen wrote: "I am convinced that this important survey can inform our actions as we work to improve our processes and practices that are designed to ensure equal opportunity for fair treatment of all men and women in uniform. To this end, a complete electronic file of the survey data is being provided to each Service to assist in their review and in the assessment of modifications and improvements of Service programs and procedures that may be warranted." Secretary Cohen followed this guidance with a call for a meeting of the Department's senior leadership to review the survey results and the career progression report.

The Department of Defense plans to use both the report on the Career Progression of Minority and Women Officers and the report on the Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey to evaluate the effectiveness of its efforts in equal opportunity into the next millennium.


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