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Diversity In Action

U.S. Navy: enhancing an inclusive environment

Women in combat, teaching kids about STEM, and mid-service sabbaticals are some of the new and never-expected changes within the U.S. Navy


Building on commitments to foster a more inclusive work environment as well as opportunities for women, the U.S. Navy is moving full steam ahead with diversity and inclusion initiatives and recruitment and promotion objectives, says Commander Mery-Angela Katson, who heads the Navy office of diversity and inclusion.

"My predecessor laid the foundation. We have just started moving what he started to the next level. Always focusing on diversifying our Navy, making ourselves competitive but becoming an employer of choice is what we're striving for," Katson says. Her office has partnered with the office of the Secretary of the Navy to make sure that happens.

Katson notes that the Navy's emphasis on inclusion is paramount to attract and retain talent both in and out of uniform. There is a big push to bring many who have left the service back as civilian employees. "To be an employer of choice, we have to have the reputation and respect of the civilian population."

Technical skills are important throughout the Navy. One active technical area is the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/Tenth Fleet, says its deputy commander, Rear Admiral Diane Webber. The command is looking for civilian employees as well as uniformed folks in a variety of technical specialties. Generally, U.S. citizenship is required as well as drug testing, she says, plus the ability to obtain and maintain a clearance, generally at the TS (top secret) or TS/SCI (top secret/sensitive compartmentalized information) level.

The Navy partners with diversity-focused tech groups like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers and American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

The Navy is excited about women's progress in technology, and the number of women now getting technical degrees. "I would say women are definitely leading the pack. A lot of them are in tech fields in the Navy," Katson says, adding that young women and Hispanics "are very well represented," she says.

This military service depends heavily on technology. "As we fine-tune weapons, systems, ships, as we get smaller, we're getting smarter. That's why it shouldn't surprise you that those fields are there and available to kids coming in today. About fifty percent of our total enlisted force is technical," Katson says.

Compared to ten years ago, across all tech communities, women have increased by 23 percent. Among officers, there has been an increase of 5 percent among women. Recently, the submarine community opened up to women, Katson says. "An additional twenty-four women are going into the next wave of sub crew. Seventeen are serving now," she says.

The Navy is also pleased that women are now allowed to go into nearly all combat roles. Ninety-five percent of Navy billets, or job categories, are now open to women. "Women have always been in combat, but now they are formally recognized as being in combat positions. Across the Department of Defense, we've opened up thousands of positions previously closed to women. Navy women can now work hand in hand with Marine counterparts in ground combat units," Katson says.

The Navy has also promoted women to top ranks. Vice Admiral Robin R. Braun is the highest-ranking female aviator and recently became the chief of Naval Reserve. She is the first female leader to hold that position and will lead the entire active Naval Reserve force. And an African American woman, Master Chief April Beldo, was recently selected as a Command Master Chief onboard a nuclear aircraft carrier, also a first.

The Navy is "one-hundred percent vested and committed to STEM education," Katson says. This year, it has invested over $80 million in that area. "Almost $20 million goes to high school, middle and elementary school programs. We focus on schools with a high proportion of minority students. Take a third grader excited about math in a robotics competition: we're not looking to recruit them, necessarily, but looking to make them love the field," Katson explains. Navy programs bring real robots, medical teams and simulators to schools.

The Navy has also taken a proactive stance and emphasis on work-life initiatives, knowing that today's new workers value those programs. They also want to be included in decision making, Katson says. "They have great diverse experiences, knowledge and skills. A lot of our policies and efforts go to find programs that will excite them to join the Navy," she says.

One program that shows how seriously the Navy takes the concerns of the new generation is its new sabbatical program. Uniformed Navy personnel can qualify for a one to three-year hiatus by applying through Katson's office.

"They're still on the books but technically not serving. They can go out there for one to three years and get an education, take care of ailing parents, travel the world, whatever, then come back to the service. It's a pilot program started three years ago, and we're extending it another three years. Men and women are using it, and appreciate that the Navy cares enough about them to allow them to care for personal needs then come back to serve," Katson says.

"A military structure is often thought of as being rigid. But we're definitely becoming flexible with great programs like these."

D/C




www.navy.mil

Headquarters: Washington, D.C.
Employees: 318,400 active duty, 108,700 reservists and 200,000 civilian employees
Budget: $161 billion in FY 2012
Mission: Maintains U.S. naval forces

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