Correction to This Article
This article about a study on racial disparities in Navy promotions incorrectly referred to petty officers who might be considered for promotion as enlisted officers. Petty officers are enlisted personnel and rank below warrant and commissioned officers. The article also incorrectly said researchers found that the Navy advanced 3 percent of all sailors to middle officer ranks, referred to as E-4, E-5 and E-6. The correct figure is 31 percent.

White Navy officers are more likely to be promoted than blacks or Hispanics, study finds

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2010

The Navy is more likely to promote white enlisted officers than those who are black or Hispanic, according to an independent academic study based on data provided by the military branch.

Researchers found that the Navy advanced 3 percent of all sailors to middle officer ranks, referred to as E-4, E-5 and E-6. From 1997 to 2008, the promotion rate was 34 percent for whites and 29 percent for other racial and ethnic groups.

"The results are pretty strong, but we don't use the word 'discrimination,' because we don't think it is deliberate," said Amos Golan, an economics professor at American University and co-author of the study, which was first reported by the Navy Times.

The Navy gave researchers workplace data that employers rarely provide, including standardized test scores and the educational backgrounds of the applicants considered for promotion. Golan said that he and his colleagues, who included professors from New York University, were looking to identify the cause of the promotion differences.

They found that supervisor evaluations were the most subjective part of the promotion process, which includes test scores, awards, time served and other factors. Researchers compared people with similar testing scores, educational achievement and personal characteristics, such as age.

"We controlled for everything possible," Golan said. "The Navy does a good job in making the promotion process as objective as possible. The supervisor recommendation is the only thing that we can think of that could create racial differences. We like to think of it as if we have twins, but one is treated differently than the other."

"The Navy's enlisted advancement process and boards provide a fair and effective way to successfully promote Sailors who have shown themselves ready to take on the responsibilities of the next rank," Navy Cmdr. Brenda Malone, a spokeswoman for the chief of naval personnel, said in a statement. Guidelines "explicitly state that board members must work to ensure Sailors are not disadvantaged because of their race, religion, color, gender or national origin."

She said that the Navy continuously reviews its policies and metrics to improve its promotion process.

Naval leadership has said diversity is a priority, and the Naval Academy recently spent $3.6 million on media efforts to reach minority recruits.


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