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Study Shows a Lack of Diversity Among U.S. Coast Guard Active-Duty Members, Especially in Higher Ranks

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Women and racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented at all levels of the U.S. Coast Guard, especially in higher ranks and among senior leadership, and comprehensive changes across the organization are needed to improve diversity rates among all ranks, according to new research.

Initiated by the Coast Guard, the research is part of the service’s effort to address its low level of racial and ethnic minority representation and build a more inclusive workforce. Currently, only 31% of Coast Guard members are racial or ethnic minorities, compared with a 42% average across all services.

The “Holistic Study and Analysis for Recruiting and Retention of Underrepresented Minorities” (URM),  sponsored by the USCG Office of Diversity and Inclusion (CG–127), was conducted by researchers at RAND’s Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC). Findings from the study were released today in a report titled “Improving the Representation of Women and Racial/Ethnic Minorities Among United States Coast Guard Active-Duty Members”.

While the Coast Guard seeks to attract, recruit, and retain a workforce that represents all segments of society, the research shows that the service does not attract its share of eligible, service-inclined women to its enlisted ranks or have adequate representation of black men or women from racial or ethnic minority groups. Additionally, the report finds that the proportion of both women and racial and ethnic minorities declines as rank increases, especially for officers. This ultimately results in a less diverse senior leadership.

“The lack of diversity in the Coast Guard is cumulative and compounds with every step in the career lifecycle,” said Nelson Lim, lead author of the report. “As a result, the number of women and racial and ethnic minorities in the pool of potential leaders narrows at each stage and results in a less diverse senior leadership.”

The report analyzed the policies, programs, and practices that create potential barriers in attracting and retaining underrepresented minorities into Coast Guard ranks, and includes recommendations to help the Coast Guard achieve its goal of creating a more inclusive workforce.

“The Coast Guard continues to seek out opportunities to foster a more inclusive, respectful Coast Guard that produces a mission-ready workforce that reflects the public we serve,” said Adm. Linda Fagan, who was sworn in as the Coast Guard Vice Commandant in June, becoming the first female four-star Admiral in Coast Guard history. “This study builds on the findings in the 2019 RAND Women’s Retention Report and Holistic Analysis, establishes benchmarks, and gathers feedback from the workforce to help ensure all members can reach their full potential.”

The report includes five key findings and makes recommendations focussed on areas of diversity outreach and recruiting; career development; advancement and promotion; retention; and overall workforce climate.

“The bottom line is that the Coast Guard needs to take much more decisive action to meet executive and congressional branch demands to improve diversity top-to-bottom,” Lim said. “The Commandant’s proactive steps to address these challenges are important, but there is no quick fix, and it will take years of consistent, comprehensive effort to make lasting changes.”

An internal Coast Guard personnel readiness task force is expected to take immediate action on the recommendations of the study.

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