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Research Questions

  1. What are the root causes of underrepresentation of women and of racial and ethnic minority groups (to whom the Coast Guard refers collectively as "underrepresented minority" or URM groups) in the active-duty Coast Guard?
  2. What strategies could the Coast Guard implement to increase its diversity?

The U.S. Coast Guard seeks to attract, recruit, and retain a workforce that represents all segments of U.S. society. However, in the current active-duty Coast Guard, representation of women and of members of racial and ethnic minority groups declines as rank increases, ultimately resulting in a less diverse senior leadership. These demographics are largely the cumulative effect of the service's personnel system in which the pool of potential senior leaders narrows at each stage of the career life cycle, along with the number of candidates from underrepresented groups.

To identify the root causes of the underrepresentation of women and of members of racial and ethnic minority groups in the Coast Guard, researchers used a mixed-method approach involving literature reviews, analysis of personnel data, interviews with subject-matter experts, focus groups, and a survey of active-duty personnel. The team examined the factors that shape representation at each phase of the military career life cycle — recruiting, career development, promotion and advancement, and retention — and identified facilitators of and barriers to improving diversity in the Coast Guard. The report includes recommendations to help the Coast Guard achieve its ultimate goal of a workforce that looks like the nation it serves.

Key Findings

  • Accessions: Mixed performance against population benchmarks highlights the importance of eligibility requirements and outreach practices on the Coast Guard's ability to tap into diverse talent pools.
  • Career development: There are inconsistent trends in career development indicators for enduring improvement. Survey and focus group findings highlighted concerns about the assignment process, particularly for women and black enlisted personnel.
  • Advancement and promotion: According to available data, processes appear to treat personnel fairly, but career histories cause disparities. Survey findings show that, across all demographic groups, the majority of personnel understand the advancement or promotion process, but fewer view it as fair.
  • Retention: Women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups have lower retention than their majority counterparts across the career life cycle. Focus group and survey findings highlight the importance of leadership as a key retention factor for all groups. These findings are also consistent with the study of retaining women in the Coast Guard previously conducted by Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center researchers.
  • Climate: Survey and focus group findings highlight a lack of trust in leaders at all levels about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues and about implementation of processes designed to protect against discrimination.


  • Implement data-enabled outreach and recruiting policies and practices.
  • Deliberately develop personnel throughout their careers so URM personnel are competitive.
  • Improve perceptions of how development opportunities are distributed.
  • Expand mentoring for URM personnel.
  • Transform the assignment process to address fairness and transparency concerns.
  • Ensure that current policies adequately address concerns about racism in local communities.
  • Improve transparency and accountability in advancement and promotion processes.
  • Expand opportunities for comprehensive leadership development training.
  • Mitigate causes of involuntary separations for URM enlisted personnel.
  • Review EO complaint process to improve trust and personnel perceptions.
  • Foster an inclusive culture for all members to build trust in leaders' commitment to addressing DEI issues and bring about lasting improvements in representation of women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups among Coast Guard personnel.
  • Establish and resource an office of DEI.
  • To conduct consistent barrier analysis, establish and maintain a data-enabled talent management system.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Diversity and Inclusion (CG-127) and conducted within the Personnel and Resources Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.