Fostering inclusion to build a stronger force

  • Published
  • By Heather Heiney
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, Air Force Global Strike Command deputy commander, was recently confirmed by the Senate for a fourth star and will soon be the first black man to lead AFGSC.

He said, “It’s Airmen who drive our ability to adapt, it’s Airmen whose know-how and determination allow us to conduct warfighting, and as we push towards a more lethal and ready force, it is a diverse and inclusive force of Airmen that will help drive that end state.”

Maj. Rashida Brown, 341st Medical Group group-practice manager, has been one of the Airmen working toward that vision. She recently completed the Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program with Cornell University where she learned more about improving engagement, fostering an inclusive environment and diversity and inclusion at work.

Part of Brown’s training focused on distinguishing between diversity and inclusion. She explained that diversity means significant representation of people who are different from an organization’s historical norms, while inclusion is ensuring the environment is supportive of those differences and employees are engaged and feel they have a say in influencing the organization.

“Both are critical because without focused efforts on diversity, we won’t be challenged to approach our interactions in a more inclusive manner,” Brown said. “In the last decade, the civilian sector has made a big shift of focus from diversity to diversity and inclusion and it’s important that the Air Force keeps up with this progress.”

According to Brown, one part of inclusion is looking at diversity more like a salad instead of a melting pot. In a melting pot the individual elements must transform themselves to fit into the pot where as in a salad, each component maintains its own identity while adding value and difference to the dish.

“Diversity is our greatest strength, but we must shift the culture to be more inclusive of the differences that make us diverse in the first place,” she said.

On Jan. 11, 2021, the Air Force took a more proactive approach and stood up the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The department supports both the Air Force and Space Force and works directly for the secretary of the Air Force while continuing to address the strategic impact of diversity, inclusion and equity on Airmen, Guardians and their families.

According to Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs, “The new office is charged with identifying and changing policies and procedures, removing barriers and other practices that may have an unfair effect upon underrepresented Airmen and Guardians.”

Locally, the 341st Missile Wing Diversity and Inclusion Council has been working to foster inclusion on base as well as in the community since it was formed in 2020.

“We’re working to bring training and education opportunities and further awareness with heavy emphasis on special observances,” Brown said.

Some of those observances included the first-ever Great Falls Juneteenth celebration and events highlighting Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Pride Month.

For leaders and Airmen who want to foster a more inclusive environment, Brown offers the following advice:

  • Be clear about what is expected and valued.
  • Ensure all employees feel safe at work, in taking risks and in expressing thoughts and feelings.
  • Develop strong norms that uniqueness among group members will be integrated.
  • Do not expect people to check their identity at the door when they go to work.
  • Model inclusivity through communication and behaviors.
  • Check stereotypes and biases in order to reduce prejudice.
  • Be careful not to label people.
  • Question negative gut reactions by looking for information that contradicts the initial reaction.
  • Ask whether the reaction would have been the same if someone else had engaged in the same behavior.
  • Express disapproval of microaggressions, which are actions or statements that express discrimination, whether those microaggressions are intentional or unintentional.
  • Combat perceptions that there is a greater social value associated with some groups over others.

“There is much work left to be done,” Brown said. “But we are now being challenged by the future leaders of the Air Force and being empowered by current leaders of the Air Force to have the hard conversations, push the envelope to change systems and learn how we can lean on our differences to make us a stronger force.”