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CNSL Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

by Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener
06 April 2022
VADM Nowell, RADM McLane, RADM Holsey, RDML Wilson, RADM Harris, RDML Velez, Captains, Commanders, and shipmates good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to speak with you all today! To the SURFLANT team, thank you, you’ve done a wonderful job setting up this event. We need more forums just like this to discuss ideas pertinent to the Surface Force and to the Navy as whole.

I’d like to begin today by walking everyone through the changes I’ve seen in the Navy over the past 37 years. Needless to say, the Navy I joined back in 1984 is very different from the Navy of today. When I joined it was a far more homogenous organization –prone to group think and antiquated philosophies. We have made a lot of progress, and I’m proud of the Force. Our nation has wrestled with diversity, equity, and inclusion, just as our Navy has, and I think that coming together today as we are, helps us share experiences and narratives to help sustain the momentum.

We are in an epic battle for talent, and the plain truth of the matter is that talent can be found in any individual—regardless of their race, gender, or preferences. Putting aside for the moment the INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT POINT OF TREATING EVERY INDIVIDUAL WITH DIGNITY…the Navy simply cannot afford to be a workplace that does not allow every individual to flourish, because in that blossoming is the path to warfighting readiness and combat performance. IT IS A PROVEN FACT THAT MORE DIVERSE ORGANIZATIONS ARE THE HIGHEST PERFORMING ORGANIZATIONS [PERIOD]. Therefore, we seek to do this because it is the right thing to do, and it will make us a better Navy. 
I thought it would be appropriate to talk to you about my own experience with diversity in the Navy. I do this for two reasons. The first is because I’m a Sailor and that’s what Sailors do – WE TELL STORIES. But secondly, I do so to encourage all of YOU to share your narratives, share your experiences. Because no two are the same, and because you never really know what another person has faced or overcome, without listening.

[My parents were immigrants from the UK and although my Dad was an electronics engineer I grew up in a very blue collar town. My parents were not racists but I was exposed to racism in schools and in the neighborhood. Although, we all seemed to get along very well].
[On my first ship…USS DEWEY (DDG 45), Charleston, SC; 1985-88. No women were assigned to the ship – were not allowed to be assigned to combatants;
BT1 Jones and the mess Decks; SCPO Story; but we all wore the same cloth.]
[My Department head Tour USS SAN JACINTO: 1992-96 – in 1994 we passed the DON’T ASK DON’T TELL POLICY permitted gay Americans to serve in the military as long as they remained closeted. I would say it was a step forward because at the time I don’t think our country was ready to openly accept the gay community. Many of us did not like it because we were telling our Sailors to lie to us.

During this same tour Congress repealed the combat exclusion laws that prevented women from serving in combat ships and aircraft.)
[Flash forward to my XO tour on USS COWPENS – circa 1999/2000. This was my first tour in the Navy where I served alongside women. – DON’T ASK DON’T TELL still in effect but we’re making progress]
[Command Tour – CO of DDG 2002-2004: fellow squadron and DDG CO was a woman – became a Flag Officer; female officers served onboard. There was a very small female enlisted footprint but numbers began increasing.
Ships complement included Sailors from all over the world: Chinese Nationals – imagine that! Nigeria, the Congo, Jamaica, Central and South America – we all wore the same cloth]
[MAJCOM Tour – CG. 2008-2010. large complement of females in Wardroom, Chiefs Mess and on the deck plate. January 20, 2009, Barack Obama becomes our first black president.]
[COS C3F: 2011-2012. 2011 we repealed DON’T ASK DON’T TELL. We were ready. I remember a discussion with my teenage children and I knew we’d be okay.]

I think it’s important to reflect on these stories.
To know where we’re going we need to understand where we’re coming from. Based on the change that occurred over my career I thought the Navy and our Country had a pretty good handle on diversity and remained on a positive trajectory. The death of George Floyd in May of 2020 made me rethink my definition of diversity and how serious we as a Navy and a Nation were focused on improving equity and inclusion.   
I am a prolific reader so to understand what was going on I began consuming the OP EDs –I don’t really read the regular news anymore – discussing George Floyd and his murder. I came across an OP ED titled “I need white mamas to come running”. It was about a black women and her relationship with her son.
  • How she took care of him and how proud she was of him.
  • He graduated from Harvard and now he would take care of her.
  • But the thesis of the story is “Mothers of black sons never stop being scared, and they need more mothers of white children to share that burden with them.
  • But what grabbed my attention in this article were all things she taught her son to stay out of trouble – that as a father of three boys I would never think to teach my sons.
  • I asked my PAO – 2 young boys 4/5 African American.
  • How can this be? I thought we were better than this? Is this impacting our Sailors?
  • Maybe we don’t get diversity? I don’t think I did. The simple fact that we wear these cool uniforms that bind us together doesn’t take into account that when we leave our ships and take this uniform off we are treated differently based on gender, race, or sexual orientation – that bothers me and it is a stressor to our warfighting readiness.
We can conduct studies, send surveys, and accumulate research but unless we make, and continue to make, positive changes within the Navy, and society, the undue stresses affecting our shipmates lives will continue. We cannot expect talented Sailors to be able to perform at their best while they must worry about their personal treatment inside and outside our organization.
I’m convinced that I’ll never be as attuned to these issues as some of our Sailors but that doesn’t stop me from diligently working to produce safer, more inclusive environments for our shipmates.
We as a Surface Navy are tackling that challenge through our guiding document the Competitive Edge, specifically: Line of Effort One.
  1.  Develop the Leader, Warrior, Mariner, and Manager
We need your help in developing leaders, warriors, mariners, and managers.
We must continuously invest in our people and our programs to build and empower our Sailors and our Leaders. We’ve invested in virtual trainers, better programs, and expanded schoolhouse curriculums but for every effort put forth to build new and sophisticated learning environments we must equally attract and cultivate talent that will excel within those environments. Talent knows no color, class, gender, or creed. Talent is blind to the prejudices of society. But as an organization immersed in societal norms we can become prone to prejudices. Let me be clear, Diversity makes us a stronger force.

To drive this point home, this past year Command Master Chief Josephine Tauoa (TAU-OH-UH) was selected as the recipient of the Master Chief Petty Officer of Navy, Delbert D. Black Award –an award annually recognizing the highest performing CMC. She took her crew through an 18-month sustainment phase, Pacific Dragon 2020, and RIMPAC 2020 -all during the height of COVID. I can’t imagine a better CMC and I’m sure CHUNG-HOON’s crew can’t either. Her humility, grit, leadership was vital in getting CHUNG-HOON through those arduous operations.

Remember women weren’t allowed to serve aboard combatants until 1994 and I can hardly fathom the inspiring leaders we completely overlooked due to our lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Surface Force decades ago. It reminds me of a quote from Stephen Jay Gould, he said, “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” It’s our obligation now to ensure that we do not overlook talent and that we remove barriers that would prevent that talent from emerging.

Removing barriers doesn’t require the complete dismantling of our organization, for example it brought us all here today. You know, I recently attended the Navy Flag Officer and Senior Executive Symposium and the words of the guest speaker stuck with me and I’d like to share them with you. He said, “Leaders need to spearhead culture renovation. It’s all about keeping what works, changing what needs changed, and ensuring proper care and maintenance.” I think that’s the approach we need to take.

It’s easy to look at the flaws within an organization, throw up your hands, and say we’re going to restart from scratch but frankly we, as a Navy, don’t have that luxury. Nor do we want it. It’s far more effective to take an analytical approach and assess what is and is not working. We need to identify how different variables effect the same system. One of the major initiatives that’s doing just that is the Navy Leadership Development Framework (NLDF).
Assessing DEI
When we view our problems through NLDF we first identify what’s not working. The express goal is to foster the character, competence, and connections of the Surface Force –keeping diversity, equity, and inclusion squarely in view. We know that the Surface Navy is the most diverse unrestricted line community but we are still far from our desired end state. There are more than two times the black enlisted sailors than black officers at junior levels. We need to bring this into better balance.

And I encourage you to attend the panel discussions on Officer Accession and Enlisted-to-Officer Programs. If we look at female officers, even though women make up 50% of the population they only make up 23% of the Surface Force. And though this is a sharp increase from several decades ago, it’s not good enough. There is currently a 28% to 16% decrease in retention from O1 through O3 to O4 and that isn’t sustainable for a more diverse future force. When it comes to diversity our numbers are not where we want them to be.

For instance, the Surface Warfare Officer pool is about 50% less diverse than its civilian counterpart. Contrary to what you might believe diverse SWOs screen at similar or higher rates to non-diverse SWOs for Major Command. Females SWOs are more likely to be selected for XO/CO billets than male SWOs; but many female SWOs have left the community by that milestone. We understand that family planning is a major concern. Starting a family and being home with that family is not conducive with sea billets. We are working to increase career path flexibility to afford time for starting a family.
One of the main takeaways we’ve found is that more flexible career paths, meaningful performance evaluations, and improved unit cohesion can increase retention for men and women alike. It’s vital that we retain the best Sailors. The future readiness of our forces depends on the actions we take today.
Sustaining DEI
Sustaining diversity, equity, and inclusion requires us to get the foundation right enabling continued positive cultural development.

But the foundation is only as strong as our drive to defend it. Stimulating connectedness at accession; committing to career long investment in leadership development; reviewing training and development programs to ensure they draw from all segments of the workforce and identify barriers [PAUSE] these goals must be accomplished because diversity needs to extend up and down the chain of command. In warfare, there are no constant conditions. The continuous advancements in warfighting require us to modify and assess our tactics and train for all possibilities.

Diversity allows us to approach problems from different perspectives and combine our insights to create solutions to overwhelming obstacles. We will be unable to do that if we do not sustain our initiatives to attract and retain talented individuals of all gender, class, race, and creed.
Call to Action
What I want you to take away from this summit is that we as Navy are making changes. But we need your help.

These are not easy things to talk, but we must share our stories, if we don’t we will never truly understand one another. Arguably, you can say it took me 37 years to figure it out – we are better than that. And that is why we are here today. All of my experiences have led me to the definite truth that a more diverse Surface Force makes us a stronger warfighting organization. More than that it is our moral imperative as an organization built upon Honor, Courage, and Commitment to uphold these values.

We must continue to be leaders of right and of change, so that the Sailors who wear this cloth are the boldest and most courageous sailors to ever put to sea.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.


Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 2841 Rendova Rd. San Diego, CA 92155-5490
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Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 2841 Rendova Rd. San Diego, CA 92155-5490

This is an official
U.S. Navy website

U.S. Pacific Fleet
2841 Rendova Rd
San Diego, CA

Public Affairs Officer

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