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When Vice Admiral Mark E. Ferguson, Chief of Naval Personnel with the U.S. Department of Navy, talks about the Navy’s commitment to diversity, he likes to recount the story of Hernando Cortez.
Cortez, who sailed from Cuba to the shores of the Yucatan in February 1519, commanded 11 ships with more than 500 soldiers, 100 sailors and 16 horses, bound for Mexico to take the world’s richest treasure—one that had been unconquerable for more than 600 years.
When they arrived, they camped along the shore for a few weeks, Ferguson told a DiversityInc audience of more than 200 federal-agency and corporate leaders attending our learning event on March 10. To read more about the event, click here.
DiversityInc’s next event in Washington, D.C., will be on Nov. 8–9 and will offer federal agencies tips on evolving their diversity-management strategies. For information, click here.
“Behind them lay the sea and a long journey; many of them were sick,” Ferguson said. “And in front of them lay a new world and all that its promise held.”
Then, Cortez looked at his crew and uttered three words to his army that established a new level of commitment and persistence to their endeavor: “‘Burn the boats,’” Ferguson said, recounting Cortez’s order. In other words, “‘We’re not going back,’” he said.
DiversityInc’s next event in Washington, D.C., will be Nov. 8–9 and will offer federal agencies tips on evolving their diversity-management strategies. For information, click here.
Ferguson said commitment is the foundation of success, and it was a similar statement of commitment that guided the Navy’s diversity and inclusion efforts several years ago. He said the Navy is currently leading the armed services in diversity and is making huge strides in diversity-outreach programs, mentoring and recruitment and training to ensure the maritime service reflects the diversity of America.
Last year, the Navy won 20 national awards for its diversity efforts, he said. “The awards are not as important as the culture that underlies them, in my view, and that people believe we are on this journey, that we are not perfect but we are striving to get there,” he said. “We’re committed to it. We have burned the boats.”
Just last month, the Navy announced it would allow women to serve for the first time on submarines, shattering a gender barrier that has stood since the U.S. submarine force was created in 1900. “We did it because the talent is there,” he said. “If you go to the Naval Academy, the majority of the top graduates are women. And here was the most technical and advanced area of our endeavors and it was closed off. So we opened that to women.”
And this summer, Rear Admiral Nora W. Tyson is scheduled to become the next commander of the Norfolk, Va.–based Carrier Strike Group 2, which includes the carrier George HW Bush, according to Ferguson.
He said the Navy has made strides addressing the particular challenges facing families, including paternity leave for new fathers, and operational deferment for up to a year, the longest of any service. Ferguson said the Navy has introduced more flexibility, encouraging more men and women to telecommute, focusing on “results, not attendance.”
The Navy also introduced a career-intermission program where women and men can apply and take up to three years off with healthcare benefits and a small stipend so they can take care of a child or attend to a family crisis.
“It is the bond of the social contract, that trust between an organization and its employees, that we put at the cornerstone of our efforts here,” he said.
In the last couple of years, Ferguson said the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis has seen a 50 percent jump in Black, Latino and Asian applicants, thanks in large part to the Navy’s two-year-old outreach program to people from traditionally underrepresented groups and high-school students who live in parts of the country that have been underrepresented. This year, the current freshman class is the most diverse in the school’s history, with 27 percent of its members Black, Latino and Asian.
Ferguson said the Navy is also tackling the lack of diversity in Navy leadership. “We looked at our senior leadership and asked ourselves some very hard questions, and we started to make changes,” he said. “We now have five vice admirals who are African American.”
“We are engaged in this because it’s a strategic imperative and we really mean it,” Ferguson said. “Once you overcome that hurdle and unleash the genius of people you have working for you, some amazing things start to happen. It’s been a great journey for us.”