Military Photos Give an Advantage to White Men Like Me. Let's Get Rid of Them

Jim Perkins is a major in the Army Reserve's 75th Innovation Command. He has been on active service for 11 years and now works in technology in Seattle. He tweeted at @ jim_perkins1.
What does a leader look like? What gender and race are they? According to illustrations in the Army Handbook on Regulating Promotional Photos, it's easy to conclude that a leader is a white man in combat weapons with the last name Atkinson. He does not wear glasses and his subordinates are women and colored people with names like Marinez and Villalobo. Seriously.
Last week, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper suggested removing official photos from the files to reduce systemic bias. In his remarks, he noted that this was something he had advocated as secretary of the army, and added: "The military led the nation to end segregation after World War II ... We all agreed that it's time to redirect this problem. "
Secretary, I am sure that you, as a former executive director, know Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and I am sure that you, as a former infantryman, know that you cannot do it from behind.
Official photos weren't created to give white men an edge, but it only takes an 8th grade to recognize that gender and race indicators do just that. American society internalizes racism and gender stereotypes in young children. Your Manpower offices already have the data to show you that this is the right step. Gender and race should not be included in doctoral and selection panels.
The bias in hiring and promotion decisions is well documented. Top-class companies value specialist knowledge, relevant experience and current performance. They try to measure what is important and promote the people who deliver it.
There should be no question about the need to address systemic military prejudices. The Department of Defense’s own data seem to confirm this: whites make up 69% of the armed forces, but 88% of flag officers.
This is a sign of how bad our talent management system is when photos are a relevant decision-making factor. The Army's Battalion Command Assessment Program recently showed how flawed our current system is as candidates jumped from last to first in a new, more sophisticated process that involved a double-blind panel interview. The Department of Defense collects data about each service member - including full health records - and we still discuss whether to take photos.
According to the Army, Marine Corps and Navy - the three services that contain images - an official photo is said to show "military stance". Military records suggest that the photo demonstrates a soldier's discipline and precision over uniform regulations, but even four-star generals with aides make mistakes on national television.
In the relevant army doctrine ADP 6-22, the military stance is a collective term for characteristics such as fitness, courtesy and self-confidence. In other words, military stance is an act, not a characteristic. At best, a photo is a weak indicator of fitness, physique and other attributes that have already been repeatedly and explicitly assessed in the applicant's file: PT values, height, weight, appearance and behavior.
Fitness standards tell us what is acceptable. If we want fitter people, we have to raise fitness standards. If we worry about people lying about fitness dates, it's a bigger problem than photos.
What does a picture actually show?
It shows badges and awards, many of which are earned early in a career. And it can show some previous units (overseas service and special staff deployments). All of this is already in writing in the file; An image only increases the distortion of availability. A picture also shows gender, race, skin color, pregnancy, hairstyle, glasses, facial expression, physique and wounds or scars.
We also know that photos are not perfect. There are online instructions on how to customize your uniform for a photo. Photos are not updated while the service member is in use or in a remote location, e.g. B. in a graduate school, a ROTC squad or an embassy. Provided that a pregnant woman has no miscarriages, she is excluded from the photo for 15 months. While it is possible to mask hands and face to reduce certain prejudices, there is no way around the obvious gender of a uniform.
Photos also show nothing about a person's recent performance. Should a male major have an advantage over his female competition for lieutenant colonel in acquisitions because he went to the Ranger school and received a combat infantry badge 10 years ago as a lieutenant? No, but he does.
What does a picture not show? It doesn't show academic achievement - you can get a badge for two weeks of helicopter training, but not for a doctorate. - or technical certifications and language skills. Shannon Kent, senior chief petty officer, was exactly the warrior that her husband is, but she didn't have a tab, trident, or beret.
It should come as no surprise that the Air Force does not take photos in board files and the service with diversity at higher levels has been more successful. (The Air Force also advises against using gender pronouns in ratings and removes race / gender from board records.) Meanwhile, the Army and Marine Corps contain this information and have the lowest proportion of female members, some of the lowest rates of minority members in senior and officer ranks - and the highest rate of reports of sexual assault based on the latest data.
America's first woman to receive a fourth star, retired army general Ann Dunwoody, titled her memoirs with "A Higher Standard" in a non-subtle allusion to the discrimination she faced as a woman in the military - a message that the incoming chief received The Air Force staff, General Charles "CQ" Brown, recently repeated this in a video.
You can't tell much about a person in a photo, but you can tell a lot about a person through their actions or inactivity. In this context, official photos in the files say nothing about the issues, but their continued presence shows the lack of integrity and moral courage among our senior executives.
The senior executives who were elected to the top ranks came there by repeating the doctrine and may believe that these photos have value. Almost all of them are white men, and to question the system they have chosen for their size means to doubt their own size. However, I cannot make the same excuse for our high-level civilian leadership.
If you really want to lead, just use the diversity office you have and blame people. Don't ask the troops; Ask your most vulnerable troops. Do not expect an organization that is mostly white and male to be aligned with all systemic prejudices.
It's time to remove photos and other obvious gender and race indicators from the board files.
- The opinions expressed in this comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to make your own comment, send your article to opinion@military.com for review.

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