Navy Diversity as an Engine of Doxicity: Lessons Learned in a Navy Recruiting District

Authored by Daniel T. Murphy


The purpose of this study was to understand how diversity is recognized, promoted, and supported by a Navy Recruiting District (NRD), and how the organization benefits from diversity. In general, the results of the study were positive. Artifacts of diversity are very observable, regularly espoused, and seem to be genuinely “felt”, and members of the organization seem to have consensus that diversity has a positive contribution to the mission and to the organization overall.

To understand the features and benefits of diversity at NRD, I completed interviews with three members of the organization. All interviewee names in this paper are pseudo names. Sam is an officer recruiter with 15 years of experience. He is a lieutenant, and has spent the majority of his career in operational roles, including multiple tours of duty at sea. Gin is a medical officer recruiter with 10 years of experience. She is a lieutenant, and has spent the majority of her career in shore-based clinical roles. Cole is a minority enlisted recruiter with 12 years of experience. Cole spent the early part of his career at sea, and became a career recruiter approximately seven years ago. The interviews lasted approximately 40 minutes each. I explained to the participants that the interviews were for exercise purposes only, would be kept confidential, and would be shared only with my classmates and professor. However, military members and government employees, are regularly reminded that non-classified and non-personally identifiable information (PII) is generally releasable to the public. As a result, Rosenfeld, Booth-Kewley, Edwards and Alderton (1994), and other studies have found that military members tend to be more impression sensitive than their commercial sector counterparts. In other words, they tend to be more guarded in the information they share, especially regarding sensitive topics such as diversity and inclusion.

Each interview began with a tangible, artifact-level (Schein, 2010) discussion of diversity where I discussed with participants the typical things they see, say, and hear in their workplaces on a regular basis. As the interviews progressed, I challenged the interviewees to help me uncover some of the less visible diversity elements of organizational culture; in other words, values, norms, and underlying assumptions. Each participant was asked a total of eight semi-structured, diversity-related questions, plus additional probing questions when necessary. The interview questions are included as an appendix in this document. Following the initial set of interviews completed for the general organizational culture team assignment, I conducted three follow-on interviews with the same interviewees to ask probing questions regarding the organization’s diversity-related artifacts. As a data capturing technique, I used a combination of verbatim note taking and paraphrasing. I documented the interview summaries in a standard template, and then reviewed, analyzed, and aggregated content into groupings and themes. The analysis was qualitative, with some quantitative elements, such as counting content elements to define themes.

Key Findings

Unlike the previous general culture study completed by Team 4, where we had a robust data set of 12 interviews across four organizations, the data analysis in this study did not yield a set of diversity “themes” per se. However, I was able to identify elements of diversity across each of Schein’s (2010) three levels of culture (x-axis): artifact-level, espoused beliefs and values, and basic underlying assumptions, and across his group levels (y-axis) of microculture, subculture, and macroculture.

I analyzed the interview data across two of Schein’s (2010) cultural dimensions, which for the purposes of this paper, I am describing as x-axis and y-axis (See Figure 1). As a quick review, Schein (2010) says culture develops across two dimensions. In an x-axis, culture has three levels. Observable artifacts, including structures (e.g., business processes and organization structures) and behaviors, are the top layer. Espoused (described) beliefs, values, goals, and ideologies, are a middle layer. Underlying assumptions, taken-for-granted beliefs and values, are at the bottom layer. In a y-axis, microcultures develop in workgroups. Subcultures develop in specialty groups (e.g., officers, Chief Petty Officers, and the Career Recruiter group). A macroculture develops at the organization level (e.g., NRD level). The study resulted in three key findings. First, diversity at NRD is very evident at Schein’s (2010) artifact level of culture. Second, diversity is also a clearly espoused value, and very embedded in the organization as an underlying value. Third, the organization seems to have consensus that diversity has a positive contribution to mission accomplishment, and very likely has a greater than usual positive ripple effect into our greater society.

Finding: Diversity is Artifactual

Interviewees mentioned artifact-level diversity components that generally fit into four categories: event-based artifacts, investment-based artifacts, measurement-based artifacts, and organizational structure-based artifacts. For example, all three interviewees mentioned event-based diversity artifacts. NRD’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) committee conducts events such as bake sales and pot luck lunches. These events occur at NRD Headquarters each year during African American History month in February and National Hispanic Heritage Month in September and October. In Schein’s (2010) model, these event-based artifacts exist: (a) within the macroculture level, because they are often celebrated by the Navy and NRD leadership through press releases and other organization-wide communications, (b) within subcultures, because they are celebrated by ethnic groups that cut across workgroups, and (c) within microcultures, because specific workgroups often take the lead on organizing the events.

All three interviewees mentioned investment-based artifacts. For example, NRD allocates a percentage of its operating budget for recruiters to attend local and national diversity events, such as the Society of Women Engineers conference and National Society of Black Engineers events. NRD also made a specific investment in operating costs and human resources by reopening a previously disestablished recruiting station in Quincy, Massachusetts. In recent years, Quincy has transitioned from being a predominantly white community to a more mixed community with a large Asian population. NRD reopened the station to specifically target the growing Asian demographic. NRD leadership also assigned an Asian American recruiter as the leading petty officer of the station. Diversity investment is generally a macroculture-level artifact, since investment allocations occur at the NRD and national levels.

All three interviewees also mentioned measurement-based diversity artifacts. Measurement-based diversity artifacts can be seen at the macroculture level. Navy Recruiting Command (NRC) assigns annual officer diversity recruiting goals to each NRD. Each NRD assigns a specific “diversity mission” to each officer recruiter. Here, the nomenclature itself (diversity mission) is a diversity-related cultural artifact. Each officer recruiter is assigned to recruit approximately three diversity applicants per year. At the end of each fiscal quarter, the commanding officer conducts a formal performance review of each officer’s goals achieved, including their diversity goals achieved. The formality of the performance measurement process underscores the organization’s commitment to the diversity mission.

Two of the three interviewees discussed organizational structure-based diversity artifacts. For example, one interviewee pointed to “rates and ranks” as macroculture level artifacts that, might not seem to be diversity related, but in fact are very diversity related. Perhaps more than any other organization in the world, including other military organizations, the U.S. Navy has historically categorized its enlisted workforce into vertical subculture job classifications called “ratings.” For example, Gunners Mates are responsible for operating and maintaining weapons systems. Boatswain Mates are responsible for deck operations. Intelligence Specialists are responsible for intelligence collection and production. The Navy has historically celebrated the legacies of those ratings through rituals, symbols and language. Gunners mates are often nicknamed “Guns”, and Boatswain Mates are often nicknamed “Boats”. Each rating has a logo that is worn on the uniform. For a Boatswain’s Mate, the logo is crossed anchors. For a Gunner’s Mate, the logo is crossed cannons. The Navy has also traditionally celebrated vertical subculture affiliations. When a Boatswain’s Mate is promoted to first class petty officer, he or she joins the “First Class Mess.” When that same Boatswain Mate is promoted to Chief Petty Officer, he or she is ceremonially “initiated” into the Chief’s Mess, and is pinned with anchors. The Navy aviation community has its own subculture with its own rituals, symbols (e.g., brown shoes) and language. The Navy nuclear community has its own subculture, and the Supply Corps does as well. As a result, every Navy sailor always belongs to multiple subcultures and microcultures that are significantly more tangible than in other organizations.

Looking at the organization through Freire’s (1968) lens, one could make the argument that the Navy’s organizational structure creates “hard” subcultures and microcultures where vertical and horizontal professional affiliations outweigh ethnic and gender affiliations. All three interviewees referred to their colleagues by using their subculture affiliation titles. Every time an African American Boatswain Mate is called “Boats” it reaffirms that the sailor’s primary affiliation is with his or her job specialty, rather than his or her ethnicity. If Freire asked a Navy Boatswain Mate to define “other”, he or she might be more likely to think of a Gunners Mate, rather than a member of a different ethnic group. Similarly, if Hatch and Schultz (2002) asked a Navy Boatswain Mate to define “we”, he or she might be more likely to think of the Boatswain Mates, rather than a same ethnic group. Notably, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) announced two weeks ago that the Navy will stop using rating names such as Boatswain Mate and Gunners Mate, and will instead use the term Petty Officer to refer to all junior enlisted sailors.

Finding: Diversity is Espoused and Underlying

All three interviewers talked about diversity as an espoused value at the macroculture level, by the Navy overall, and by the leadership at NRD. All three interviewers said that Navy leadership and NRD both state regularly that they and the organization value diversity, and that they and the organization believe that increasing workforce diversity and inclusion will positively impact organizational performance.   Two of the three interviewees stated that they have read the NRD commanding officer’s written diversity vision statement. One interviewee said “Our commanding officer does talk about it during various command functions.” Another interviewee said “The command always mentions diversity and inclusion at every major event.”

I am conducting this study as a scholar practitioner who has personal experience in the organization being studied. With that mind, I would like to also offer my perspective. I have 25+ years of experience as a military officer, and as an organizational change management consultant in the commercial sector. When I weigh the Navy against the many Fortune 100 clients I have served, I believe Navy leadership and Navy personnel have a relatively low emphasis on espousing diversity as an organizational value. The interviewees seemed to agree. One interviewee said “Honestly, I think the Navy already ‘feels’ like a very diverse place. In my specific work group we have two Hispanics, two African Americans, five women and only two white males. So, yes, I think we have a sense of diversity – To the point where we don’t really talk about it. We just ARE diverse.” Another interviewee said “Until last year, Admiral Andrews was the leader of Navy Recruiting overall, and she was an African American female. And, I don’t know this for a fact, but it looks to me like Navy Recruiting does purposefully select recruiters who are diverse. I think we have a larger percentage of diversity in Recruiting than we do in the fleet overall.” The third interviewee emphasized how diversity in Navy Recruiting leadership has “normalized” diversity in the organization – “Our last admiral was an African American female. My supervisor is an African American female. My last supervisor was a female. My supervisor before that was a female. Our previous commanding officer was Hispanic.”

I asked the interviewees about the role of diversity in the promotion and job assignment processes. Interviewees believe it is a good thing that NRD tries to assign a female to each recruiting station as a way to provide mentoring to female future sailors. They also agreed with NRD’s strategy of assigning an Asian recruiter to a predominantly Asian geography, and Portuguese-speaking recruiters to Portuguese-speaking geographies. Although I probed multiple times, none of the interviewees felt that diversity had any negative impact on promotions or assignments. On the contrary, they each referred to the Navy’s “color blind” advancement policy. One interviewee said the Navy is “not like the fire department, where you get extra points” for being a diversity applicant. The interviewee felt that that is one of the reasons why the organization enjoys a relatively high level of racial harmony. Another interviewee mentioned the “good will” that the Navy has earned by making the advancement exams as “job performance-based as possible,” and through programs such as the Naval Academy Preparation School which helps prepare minorities for the academic challenges of the Academy.

Finding: Diversity Benefits the Mission

According to Brown, Knouse, Steward and Beale (2009), the generally accepted view of the correlation between diversity and organization performance is through process variables, where members of the organization categorize or stereotype each other, assign responsibilities based on those stereotypes, and the organization experiences either a beneficial or detrimental performance effect. In contrast, in NRD, the net benefit of diversity seems to be more matter-of-fact and tangible. In fact, all interviewers provided specific examples of where diversity contributes to mission accomplishment. One interviewee said “I think we are able to cover specific demographics because we have the people to cover those demographics. We have female recruiters who cover an annual recruiting even for women engineers. And, I know we have assigned Portuguese speakers to our stations on the North Shore and Fall River and Providence areas.” Another interviewer emphasized how diversity enables the Navy’s international security cooperation mission: “I think you see it, for example, when one of our ships makes a port call somewhere in the world, or even during Fleet Week in New York City. You see small racially and gender diverse groups of people walking all over town. I think that has set the Navy apart for decades.” Hajjar (2010) conducted a cross-service study exploring the linkage between diversity and mission accomplishment. He argued that improving cross-cultural competence, which includes cultural knowledge, attitudes and behavioral repertoire, improves the military’s ability to work effectively in foreign cultures. Likewise, Nuciari (2007) has argued that today’s military engages in a more diverse range of military operations than in previous generations. Those operations are sometimes called military operations other than war (MOOTW). MOOTW requires personnel to have a more culturally sensitive skill set. Nuciari (2007) argues that more diversity results in more cultural sensitivity.

Similar to the way a diverse group of Navy sailors makes an impression in a foreign port, a diverse group of recruiters make a similar impression walking around a local mall. When mall goers see a diverse group of accountants walking around the mall, it does reinforce that we live in a diverse society. However, mall goers see a diverse group of Navy sailors walking around the mall, one would presume that it reinforces even more that we are a diverse society, because the sailors are wearing the same uniform, and they are representing a fighting force that takes an oath to defend the nation’s Constitution – Not the document called the Constitution, but what constitutes us as a country. In their organizational change dynamics model, Burke and Litwin (1992) describe a two way relationship between an organization’s culture and its external environment. Most often, the external environment has a greater effect on the organizational culture than the organizational culture has on the external environment. However, the optical impact of a diverse group of Navy sailors walking through a shopping mall is likely to have a more significant external impact than usual.

The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (Bordieu, 1972) used the term doxa to describe the underlying norms of a society, or what Schein (2010) would describe as the basic underlying assumptions of an organization. For Bordieu, the nature of something is reinforced when it is named, and every time the name is re-used in conversation, and every time it is seen again in the same context that it was seen previously. Bourdieu (1972) might have argued that a diverse group of Navy sailors walking through a shopping mall reinforces what is already becoming “commonsensical” in American society, often through “espoused” means. Bourdieu might say that it reinforces the norm that there is “strength” in diversity. Sociologist often explained Bourdieu’s view in examples such as: “Every time we have dinner in the dining room, it reinforces the fact that it is the dining room. Therefore, every time we dine in the dining room, it becomes more the dining room.” Likewise, Bourdieu might have said, every time a diverse group of sailors walks through the shopping mall, it reinforces that the strongest military in the world is diverse – And therefore, like so many slogans and memes have espoused, there is, indeed, strength in diversity. In similar fashion to the way the U.S. military may function as an engine of diversity doxicity in our greater society, the military itself has its own internal engines (See Figure 2). For example, according to Moitoza (2008), when U.S. military personnel see military chaplains of multiple denominations working side-by-side in a combat environment, it reinforces within the organization itself the idea of strength in diversity. Another example is the Army’s purposeful assignment of cross-ethnic mentorship assignments, described by Cho (2013).


In general, NRD’s diversity story is a positive one. Compared with many organizations, NRD has a complex array of purposely placed diversity-related elements at the artifact level, and a highly tangible two-way “flow” between the internal culture and the external environment. NRD is a diversity and inclusion-friendly component of a larger organization called Navy Recruiting Command, which was recently led by a female African American admiral. Breaking the glass ceiling is a good thing. However, true organizational change happens in the grass roots of an organization.

Lomsky-Feder and Ben-Ari (2012) studied the Israeli Defense Forces, and determined that the higher the echelon of a military organization, the stronger the ethos of cohesion, and the greater capability to regulate or silence ethnic conflict. Having a female African American admiral as the leader of Navy Recruiting Command certainly does help the Navy and society break barriers. However, the doxa (Bourdieu, 1972) that is reinforced when a diverse group of Navy sailors walks through a shopping mall is arguably even more powerful. When asked if NRD has an environment and culture that supports diversity, one interviewee answered, “I think so. I am a female, and I have rarely felt uncomfortable, even though the Navy is still a predominantly male organization. But obviously, even that is changing. I do think, as a woman you need to be aware that it’s a blue collar environment, so you are occasionally going to witness certain kinds of ‘sailor’ behavior. But again, the organization, I think is trending toward more professionalism every year.”



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