Gender neutral

Official photos, a change at the U.S. Army, why they did it, and 7 other things worth your time.

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The U.S. Army recently made a big change recently in how it promotes officers.

Up until now, every U.S. soldier who hoped to go before a promotion board had to include a photograph: standing at attention, service uniform with all the ribbons, careful not to smile.

As the official human resources page for the U.S. Army used to say (that’s foreshadowing):

Board members carefully screen each photograph for compliance with height and weight standards, proper wear of the uniform and military bearing.

DA photos add a human aspect to the selection process, and without a photograph the quality of any personnel file is greatly diminished. 

Only it turns out that even if it was totally unconscious, promotion boards might have been doing something else: systematically discriminating against soldiers on the basis of their race or gender. 

Starting in October 2018, the Army studied this by conducting two identical promotion boards: one that ran as it normally did, and one that did not include officer photos in the promotion packets.

Without the photos, they found:

  • members of promotion boards ranked soldiers more uniformly;

  • promotion decisions took less time; and

  • women and minorities were promoted at a higher rate.

“It's just that people, even if they don't think about it, they tend to want to be around people that look and think and act like them,” Army Chief of Staff General James McConville said, according to Military.com. “When you get to a higher level, you start to realize you want diversity because you want different perspectives.”

So, no more promotion board photos:

Effective 1 August 2020, the requirement for the ... photo is suspended. Data that identifies a Soldier's race, ethnicity, and gender ... will be redacted. These changes will ensure that selection boards are as fair and impartial as possible.

Now, it probably sounds more than a little bit odd to people outside of the military that the Army was still doing this.

Most large private companies would be at pains to avoid even the appearance of the possibility that bias could be sneaking into their hiring and promotion processes. 

It's not a small issue either—since the Army has close to 1.3 million soldiers and civilian employees, if you count the National Guard and reserves. 

Fun fact: Walmart is bigger—about 1.5 million U.S. employee. But beyond that, it's hard to imagine a bigger employer.

I'm going to assume that if you run a business, you don’t use photos or formal promotion boards. But are there other things that might be creeping into your processes, and unconsciously leading you or others to reveal biases? 

Are there decisions you made long ago that lead you to discount people—even without meaning to—who could be contributing greatly to your team? (Ahem.)

Now seems like a pretty opportune time to ask the question.

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7 other things worth your time

  • The Justice Department is expected to unveil an antitrust case against Google, possibly as soon as this week. One of the top remedies the government is rumored to be seeking: forcing the search and advertising giant to spin off its Chrome browser into a different company. (Politico)

  • Facebook says starting today, it will ban Holocaust denier content on its properties. This comes days after it banned QAnon conspiracy theory content. Interestingly, you can still buy a lot of QAnon themed products on Amazon and other market places; largely sold by companies based in China. (FB, Modern Retail)

  • Wait, are we doing this hoarding thing again? Half of all Americans say they’re planning to stockpile food and other necessities, in case we have another massive lockdown over the winter. (USA Today)

  • Related-ish: Faced with yet another surge in Covid-19, the UK is announcing a new “three tier” system of lockdowns across the country. (AP)

  • Do couples really begin to look alike over time? Or are people just attracted to others who resemble them to begin with? Researchers are tackling this crucial question; so far they think it’s the latter. (The Guardian)

  • If you’ve ever been to Grand Central Station in NYC, I’m going to bet you’ve set foot inside the 107-year-old oyster bar there. It reopened a couple of weeks ago—but abruptly closed again this week. Reason: Just not enough people traveling to justify staying open. (NY Daily News)

  • Chance are you’ve seen Idaho potato warehouse worker Nathan Apodaca’s viral video. If you haven’t, it’s below. Here’s the story of the chain of events that led from his 300,000-mile truck breaking down, to a 43-year-old Fleetwood Mac song topping the charts last week. (MPR News)

Photo: Official U.S. Army photo. I explored this military promotion issue on Inc.com. If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers. You can also just send an email to signup@understandably.com. And now, you can also get it by text at (718) 866-1753.

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