USAF Wants Promotions to Be More Equitable, Brown Says

USAF is exploring ways to make promotions less biased based on Air Force Specialty Codes and other demographics, Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown Jr. told reporters on Sept. 16.

The service got a relatively early start in tackling unconscious bias within the promotions process in the 1990s when it removed photos from promotions packages—a move Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper ordered the rest of the services to follow suit on by Sept. 1 of this year—Brown told reporters during a media roundtable at the Air Force Association’s virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference. 

He also cited USAF’s recent adoption of developmental categories for officer promotions as a further step in the direction of more equitable promotions. This shift allowed many officers to compete against their peers whose expertise, experience, and professional trajectories more closely align with their own, instead of forcing them to compete with combat-experienced pilots and other Airmen from Line of the Air Force career fields.

But now, Brown said, USAF is taking a deeper look at systemic biases that might still be impeding some Airmen’s ability to ascend its ranks.

“We started to look at how we bring folks in and open up the candidate pool in certain areas and look to see if there are biases that we have in our promotion system, biases in our accession systems, and biases in the testing that qualifies you for certain career fields … because some of those haven’t changed in a long time,” he told reporters at vASC. 

During the same roundtable, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said that the Air Force enlisted corps’ “underrepresented groups … are getting promoted at great rates.” 

For this reason, she said, she’s focusing on enhancing retention and inclusivity among that segment of the USAF population so the service “can tap into that talent pool and maximize” its culture and force, while ensuring Airmen feel “like they belong.”

“I’ve got a discussion in the next few weeks with a lot of my senior enlisted leaders across the force to talk about, you know, what does that mean for awards? What does that mean for recognition? And so I’ll tell you …. the jury’s still out,” Bass told reporters.

While she underscored the absence of photos from USAF promotion packages, she said that analyzing images of Airmen to ensure “good order and discipline, making sure that dress and appearance is the way that it needs to go, and for those purposes” is sometimes appropriate when deliberating awards.

“So again, kind of lots of lines of effort because we do have to make sure we’re guarding against unconscious bias, but we still are in the United States military and we’ve got to have … the dress and appearance that is appropriate for the profession of arms that we serve in,” Bass said. “So we’re having those discussions right now.”

Bass also said the service is deliberating how it might reincorporate enlisted Airmen’s experience levels into promotion decisions, Air Force Times reported.