Vice Admiral Scott Swift, Director, U. S. Navy Staff

swiftVice Admiral Scott Swift, Director, U. S. Navy Staff

The Value of Diversity: I am heartened by the way we as a service have embraced diversity.  I can only speak from my own experiences but in the thirty plus years I have served, diversity has continued to grow in recognition as critical to our success as a Navy.  

Common descriptors used to capture the value of diversity to the Navy flow along the lines of, ‘Our construct needs to be reflective of the society we serve.’  ‘Our core values are strengthened by embracing the value all individuals bring to Honor, Courage, and Commitment.’  ‘The fact that advancement and career success in the Navy are based on performance is reflective of organizational

recognition that diversity is a strength we act on.’ These elements of self-talk

reflect the value we place on diversity and that others outside our lifelines recognize as one of our foundational strengths; they are something to be admired.  We should be proud of this organizational strength embedded in our Navy ethos.

However, I am not sure if we have this as right as we could.  When I discuss diversity I often begin with a question:  “When I mention diversity what do you think as a Sailor?”  Almost invariably the response is centered, as one would expect, on the experiences of the individual.  Sometimes it is gender centric, or is based on race, religion, or ethnicity.  It could be centered on a particular warfare community.  The diverse nature of our thinking is a strength in and of itself, which takes me to what I think is the true core strength of diversity – the diversity of our thinking – and more to the point, the diversity of our ideas.

Any organization has a higher probability of success if it is willing to embrace change.  Not change for the sake of change, but well thought-out change based on the robust exchange of ideas… ideas focused on advancing the positive evolution of the organization.  While a difficult task, especially for those of us in the military, most of which are not willing to venture far from our comfort zone, it is a task made easier by surrounding ourselves with individuals that think differently than we do.  So how do you go about finding such individuals?

Seek people with different life experiences than yours.  If you surround yourself with individuals whose life experiences replicate yours, you will see problems the same way, but, unfortunately, solutions the same way as well.  This becomes group-think at its worst, manifested when those solutions are applied with no dissent and no concern as to probability of success; just a blind assumption that based on common views and vision, success is assured.  When success is not delivered, rarely is the thought process questioned… because surely the entire group couldn’t be wrong!  So how do we avoid this pitfall?

There are visual tippers to diversity of experience.  We call them gender, race, religion, ethnicity and so on.  Wouldn’t I be better served, as an aviator, with a SWO as my Aide, or a Submariner?  Someone to challenge my belief system before it is applied in the form of a solution?  Or someone who I know has had different life experiences, looks at problems differently than I do, and so adds to our ability to develop much more diverse and resilient solutions sets?

This is the power of diversity:  “The diversity of ideas.”  To make the diversity of ideas work we need to create an environment that embraces and empowers differing viewpoints… which is a subject for another discussion….