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Research Questions

  1. How has the racial-ethnic composition of the Army's active-component enlisted and officer force changed over time?
  2. What factors could explain racial-ethnic group differences in retention and other career outcomes that affect retention, such as promotions?
  3. How can the Army address potential barriers to retaining a racially and ethnically diverse force?

The 2019 Army People Strategy lists diversity among its strategic outcomes. This includes diversity in leadership, which is achieved by recruiting and retaining a diverse force. To help the Army accomplish these goals, RAND Arroyo Center examined retention of racial-ethnic minorities in the Regular Army's enlisted and officer ranks and how racial-ethnic composition changes as cohorts progress in rank over time, from accession through paygrades O-6 and E-5. Statistical models quantified the effects of observable factors on racial-ethnic differences in retention and career outcomes. Interviews with Army unit leaders provided insight into the reasons individuals stay in the Army or leave at given points, how unit leader decisionmaking affects such decisions, and what influences promotion decisions.

Key Findings

The Army has generally attracted a diverse pool of racial-ethnic recruits

  • The U.S. population has become more racially and ethnically diverse over time, as has the Army.
  • The Army has the opportunity to develop a diverse group of leaders as junior cohorts progress along their career paths.

When making stay-or-leave decisions, racial-ethnic minorities are more likely to remain in the Army than their White counterparts

  • Labor market conditions might explain why some racial-ethnic minorities choose to stay.

Diversity in the enlisted force improves as junior cohorts move through the ranks, but the reverse is true for officers.

  • Among promotion-eligible officers, racial-ethnic minorities have lower promotion rates than White officers.
  • Narrowing racial-ethnic group differences in promotion rates could increase the diversity of senior officer cohorts.

Removing race and ethnicity identification data from selection board consideration is associated with improved promotion outcomes for racial-ethnic minority officers for promotion to major

Racial-ethnic minority groups were more likely than White soldiers to have negative outcomes associated with performance or conduct in their records

  • Administrative data do not indicate reasons for racial-ethnic group differences in performance or conduct issues.

Unit leaders have some discretion when evaluating and counseling soldiers and making recommendations about promotions

  • The opinions of senior raters factor heavily into promotion decisions, but it is not always clear how any particular senior rater assesses an individual's potential.
  • Although some participants cited the potential for leadership bias about racial-ethnic minorities, many could not point to examples of blatant displays of bias and discrimination.


  • Disseminate the Army's positive narrative about racial-ethnic minority retention.
  • While there is evidence that removing race and ethnicity identification data from officer selection boards is associated with improved outcomes for racial-ethnic minority groups, promotion rates should continue to be monitored.
  • Administrative data indicate that racial-ethnic minority groups were more likely than White soldiers to have negative outcomes associated with performance or conduct in their records but do not indicate why this is so. The Army should investigate these outcomes in depth to assess the causes of these differences and develop appropriate mitigation strategies.
  • Provide more training and education for junior-level leaders on counseling and evaluating soldiers. In addition, commands should offer more protected time in their training calendars for leaders to counsel soldiers.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1, U.S. Army and conducted by the Personnel, Training, and Health Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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