Beginning next month, photos will be eliminated from promotion and selection boards, as the Army launches “Project Inclusion” to identify practices that inadvertently discriminate, senior leaders announced.

The project is a holistic effort to listen to Soldiers, civilians and family members and enact initiatives to promote diversity and equity, according to Ryan McCarthy, Army Secretary.

“A lot has to be done to address the symbolic challenges that we face that could create divisiveness within our ranks,” McCarthy told reporters.

Before deciding to eliminate photos from officer, enlisted and warrant officer promotion boards, leaders looked at a 2017-2018 study that determined, regardless of race or gender, people looking at photos will have an unconscious bias toward individuals with similar characteristics, officials said. Further, they said Army photos provide minimal information, compared to the rest of a promotion board file.

During an experiment in the study, researchers ran two identical promotion boards: one with photos and one without. In the one without photos, researchers found the outcomes for women and minorities improved. The results contributed to the decision to remove the photos.

Project Inclusion

Project Inclusion will enact a series of initiatives in the next few months to help build a diverse, adaptive, and cohesive force, said Anselm Beach, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for equity and inclusion.

“We, as a leadership team, recognize that we need to take a harder look at ourselves and make sure we’re doing all that we can to have a holistic effort to listen to our Soldiers, our civilians and our families, to enact initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion,” McCarthy said.

In the coming weeks, the Army inspector general and members of the Army Equity and Inclusion Agency will join Army senior leaders as they visit installations and leaders will engage in open and transparent conversations about race, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“We know we have to do more,” McCarthy said. “We are going to have very hard and uncomfortable conversations.”

McPherson said he wants to hear Soldiers’ thoughts about current events and listen to their ideas on inclusivity. Each session will look to identify any impact to mission readiness caused by current social issues.

“If a Soldier or civilian is distracted by an issue, then they are not fully present to accomplish the mission,” Beach said. “Understanding those impacts allow the Army to enhance mission readiness,” which can lead to new policy or adjustments to an operating environment.

Each session would be a safe place for Soldiers to express themselves without fear of reprisal.

“This is about leadership,” said Gen. Joseph Martin, the vice chief of staff of the Army.

“Leaders have to set conditions for these discussions to happen and be productive,” said Gen. Joseph Martin, Army vice chief of staff. “They’ve got to create an environment where a Soldier feels safe. And it’s also an environment that’s free of disbelief.”

McCarthy said leaders will also examine racial disparities within the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Army’s inspector general and judge advocate general will then evaluate findings and try to address the causes of the disparities, McCarthy said.

Changes under Project Inclusion also include the reconstitution of the Army Diversity Council. Led by the secretary of the Army and chief of staff, the council will prioritize diversity programs throughout the Army, all while addressing symbolic and systemic issues, Beach said.

“Part of why we wanted to host meetings with Soldiers is to get out and invest exponentially more time engaging with Soldiers at every echelon about these unconscious biases that may exist,” McCarthy said. “We must have a better understanding [of] the challenges every day that ethnic minorities may face. Are there systemic flaws within the promotion system or are there things that may be of a symbolic nature that cause division within our ranks?”

The force is also making changes to the Army People Strategy with the addition of the “Expanding Diverse Talent of the Army Officer Corps Strategic Plan.”

The new plan will focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives to strengthen the Army’s ability to acquire, develop, employ current and future leaders. Similarly, the Army will continue to expand its outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions.

Military justice reform

Tied to the project is an evaluation of the military justice system to determine if any racial disparity or bias exists in the investigation or court-martial processes, McPherson said.

During the assessment, the Army judge advocate general, the Office of the General Counsel, inspector general, and provost marshal will partner and review a range of cases to include absence without leave, urinalysis, and sexual assault or sexual harassment cases.

The review will “compare the severity of punishments by race, and see if there is a disparity… in the result of unconscious bias,” McPherson said.

The Army is also working to determine if the military justice system is more likely to investigate a specific Soldier due to unconscious bias. However, accurately assessing the investigation process could be a challenge, as race and ethnicity information is rarely documented during this stage, he added.

The enduring effort will improve equality, but make the force stronger, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville.