Army removes photos from promotion boards in effort to eliminate bias

Elizabeth Howe
June 25, 2020 - 12:58 pm
Promotion Boards Army

DVIDS

The Army announced in a memo Wednesday that the branch would be removing photos from promotion boards in an effort to eliminate racial bias. 

"We're calling it 'Project Inclusion,'" Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said of the initiative to elevate unconscious bias awareness and mitigate its impacts.

As part of the project, Army leadership will travel to installations to meet with soldiers for "very hard, uncomfortable conversations" -- the same wording the secretary used when describing the repercussions in store for Guard troops who participated in protests while on duty at the beginning of the month. 

Guard troops who knelt during protests will be having 'uncomfortable conversations' with the Army

The project also includes a 60-day review of UCMJ racial biases within the Army and removing Department of the Army photos from promotion boards come August for commissioned officers, warrant officers and noncommissioned officers. 

During a Thursday press briefing, Army leadership called on West Point researchers to explain data on how DA photos affect promotion processes. The study ran two identical boards -- one with DA photos and one without. Data showed that removing the DA photo resulted in more "precise" voter scores, less time to cast votes and improved outcomes for minorities and women. 

However, while DA photos will be removed from promotion boards, soldiers will still check a box for identifying race -- and promotion boards will still have access to these descriptions. 

According to Army leadership, the photos promote unconscious bias in a visual nature that written descriptions do not.

"We haven't ruled it out," McCarthy said of the possibility of removing the race checkbox from promotion boards as well. 

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper suggested this move as one of the immediate steps the Department of Defense could take to embrace diversity and inclusion. 

SecDef creates all-new board for 'diversity and inclusion' in the military

"This is something I pushed as secretary of the Army as we worked to overhaul our personnel system," Esper said in his video announcing the creation of the "Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion."

"This will be an enduring effort for the Army ... we will continue to improve ourselves," McCarthy said. 

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Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.

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