The Color of Change: The Army’s 1st Black, Female 2-Star General on Diversifying the Army

Maj. Gen. Marcia Anderson may have broken glass ceilings when she became the first black, female two-star general, but she knows her work is far from over, and the battle for diversity is far from being won. 

Maj. Gen. Marcia Anderson 
Maj. Gen. Marcia Anderson  Courtesy of Weber Shandwick

So what does she recommend, and what is the Army already doing to curb this unequal representation and unequal treatment of women? Opening up more combat positions, which typically set a certain career track that ends up leading to high-ranking positions, is a good start.

“If you look at major corporations, a lot of people who rise to senior leadership position … they’re not in what we’d call the ‘soft skill areas,’ such as human resources. They’ll be in marketing or [they’ll be] engineers,” she reasoned. “So the same is true for the military. Our parallel will be combat.”

Of course, mentorship and encouragement are equally important in helping to bring about the “critical mass” needed to force cultural change.

“I’m a great believer that we need critical mass. If we stay at 15 percent, the institution and the culture will not be impacted and will not change,” Anderson said. “I’d like to see the Army someday at 40 percent [women] or 50 percent.”

“Once people are exposed to different kinds of leaders, I think that’s going to inform their thinking and their behavior. … Once it becomes a norm, you don’t even think about it anymore. It’s just simply, ‘Is this person a good leader, is this someone I want to follow, is this someone who exhibits the kind of values that I want to embrace?’ and ‘Is this the kind of person I want to be my mentor?'” she added.

She knows that the task in front of her is large, but she knows that change is on the horizon. 

“It’s like the Titanic. It’s going to take a while to turn this big ship, but we’re trying to do the right thing. … We’re going to have our setbacks, but I think that the will is there in the senior leadership, and we’re going to continue to emphasize it. We did the same thing here in the military with racial integration. It wasn’t easy at first, but we kept at it, and you can think of numerous examples who’ve made it to the senior ranks because the organization valued our contributions and not the color of our skin.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article identified Anderson as the highest-ranking black woman in the military. She is the highest-ranking black woman in the Army.

Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.