Anthony Winns joined the U.S. Navy at a time when diversity was not a strategic imperative for the organization. He was once the only Black officer at Naval Air Station Barbers Point. But times in the Navy have changed dramatically, and Winns has been part of the transformation. Through hard work and insistence on competence and accountability from those in his charge, he’s risen through the ranks to become a vice admiral, earning several honors including the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, and Navy Commendation. He became Naval Inspector General in 2007.
He recently sat down with DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti, who is a former Navy helicopter pilot, for an interview. Here are key excerpts:
Visconti: You see a lot of differences in the Navy. There is extreme diversity in the Navy from the top to the bottom now, unlike when you and I were junior officers.
Winns: I was the only African-American officer on the entire base at Naval Air Station Barbers Point back in 1980. It was two years before we got our next Black officer on the base.
Visconti: You were confronted by people who said that diversity in the Navy was really just lowering quality. I think there is a human reaction that says “If you win, I lose.” If you get these women in, then I might not get that spot, that promotion. Some woman might take it or some African American, whoever it happens to be. How do you manage despite those reactions?
Winns: There is a natural human tendency to resist change. One must recognize it, know it exists and then deal with it.
Diversity is a strategic imperative for the United States Navy. We defend the greatest nation in the world. Our country is founded on democratic principles and the promise of opportunity for all. We, in this country, have changing demographics. By 2020, a third of the workforce will be comprised of “minorities,” and by 2042, the minority will be the majority. So, given the changing demographics, if an organization like the United States Navy wants to be relevant and wants to tap the most talented and the best and brightest–who are our most precious resources–then you have to go where the talent is.
Diversity is critical to mission accomplishment. We’ve got to access, mentor and retain the best talent available. New ideas and diversity of thought are vital to getting your goals accomplished in any organization, and it’s no different in the United States Navy.