The officer ranks of the Marine Corps are looking a little less white and male as the historically homogenous service makes a new push to attract diverse talent.
At a farewell ceremony for outgoing Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in January, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said accessions of female and minority officers into the service reached 33 percent in fiscal 2016, an increase of about 10 percentage points from previous years.
"That's the highest we've ever had, that I can remember," Neller said. "It's going to make us a stronger Marine Corps."
Speaking to Military.com later in January, Neller said he couldn't tie the increase in what the Corps calls "diversity officer accessions" to any single program or initiative, but suggested it's reflective of efforts to recruit more broadly.
"I think it just shows an indication, a direction from the Marine Corps to [develop] a force so that in 25 years, the Marine Corps can look more like the nation," he said. "And if you don't start now, you're never going to get there."
In fiscal 2016, the service received 1,603 new officers, of whom 9.8 percent were women and 33.3 percent were non-white, Marine Corps Recruiting Command spokesman Jim Edwards told Military.com. By comparison, diversity officer accessions totaled only 26.4 percent in fiscal 2015, 22 percent in 2014, and just 19.5 percent in 2012.
Last year's accessions create an especially strong contrast to the service as a whole. Just 6.8 percent of all active-duty Marine officers are female, and 24 percent identify as non-white, according to Marine Corps almanac data from February 2016.
Edwards said the opening of ground combat and other previously closed jobs to women in 2016, along with Neller's publicly stated goal to recruit more female Marines, prompted recruiters to emphasize advertising and promotion targeting women.
"We have increased the amount of female-inclusive or female-specific advertising to generate awareness about what it means to be a Marine and regarding opportunities for women in the Marine Corps," he told Military.com.
These efforts, he said, included updating existing advertising materials to be more representative of women; sending direct mail to female high school juniors and seniors; and coordinating engagements with female college and high school sports programs around the country.
Last February, Neller announced that he wanted the Corps to expand its population of female troops, both officer and enlisted, with a goal of creating a service that was 10 percent female. Currently, fewer than eight percent of Marines are women, making the Corps the most male-dominated service in the Defense Department.
In an effort to attract non-white officers, Marine Corps Recruiting Command organized focus groups for active-duty Marines last August to discuss the "current mindset of African-American youth," among other topics. Across the entire service, fewer than a quarter of active-duty Marines are non-white. Roughly 12 percent of enlisted troops and fewer than six percent of officers are African-American.
While the Corps' efforts to attract diversity at the entry level appear to be enjoying success, demographic data show the service still struggles when it comes to retaining female and minority officers, particularly at the most senior levels. Diversity drops sharply as seniority increases.
Just 10 percent of Marine colonels are non-white, and only 17 out of 693 -- just over 2 percent -- are female. As of last February, among the Corps' 83 generals, 10 were non-white, and just one was a woman.
"The Marine Corps is committed to making concerted efforts to attract, mentor and retain the most talented men and women who bring a diversity of background, culture and skill in service to our nation," Edwards said.
In the coming year, he said, Marine Corps Recruiting Command will continue to take "deliberate actions" to reach and attract more diverse potential enlisted Marines and officers.