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Research Questions

  1. What are the gaps, ambiguities, and inconsistencies in the military racial grievance system?
  2. How can these gaps be addressed?

A better understanding of the weaknesses and strengths of the military’s racial grievance reporting and redress system is needed to understand where and how it can be improved to encourage racial grievance reporting, facilitate timely and effective responses, and promote a more inclusive environment to better support the careers, satisfaction, and well-being of minority service members. The authors identified gaps, ambiguities, inconsistencies, and reported problems in the military racial grievance system through an examination of policies and structures and offered recommendations to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the armed forces.

Key Findings

  • Historical patterns of disparities are embedded in policy and practice.
  • A proficiency gap exists in the commanders' role in the racial grievance reporting and redress system—they are not experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) but have much decisionmaking authority.
  • Cultural barriers present obstacles at the individual, unit, and institutional levels.
  • Perceptions of risk to one's professional career might outweigh willingness to report grievances.
  • The policies are vague and use suggestive rather than directive language.
  • The racial grievance reporting and redress system lacks transparency and holistic policy or guidance, and no single organization has the necessary investigative authorities.


  • Identify and address the root causes of disparities in discipline, standardize reporting data, and promote support services to the aggrieved.
  • Incorporate checks and balances on commander decision authority, consider an objective independent body to investigate and recommend redress options, and document all actions.
  • Improve education on DEI and retaliation, publicly commit to changing institutional culture, and assess individual attitudes and unit cultures.
  • Strengthen policy language by using directive language; setting standards for fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory behavior; and using an accountability mechanism in the event of failure to meet those standards.
  • Reduce organization complexity (for example, by providing guidance that holistically describes the military racial grievance reporting and redress system), adopt an organizational framework that includes oversight by an independent authority, and increase transparency.

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for the Department of the Air Force and was conducted within the Workforce, Development, and Health Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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