WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Department of the Air Force, on behalf of both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force, stood up a special task force June 9, to address the issue of racial, ethnic and other demographic disparities and their impact on the forces.
To date, the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force has facilitated the following changes:
Partnering to increase awareness of Air and Space Force opportunities
The Department of the Air Force has started partnering discussions with the National Pan-Hellenic Council, a collaborative organization of historically African American fraternities and sororities, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, an organization providing leadership development and educational services for emerging Latinx/Hispanic leaders. By partnering with these respected organizations, the Air Force helps to increase awareness of educational and career opportunities in the Air Force for both youth and influencers in these communities that may not have regular access or exposure to Air and Space professionals, or Air and Space Force lifestyles. It also benefits Air Force leaders to network with leaders of these organizations, to learn about all that they are doing to cultivate talent within their communities.
Ensuring a public presence that showcases all Air and Space Professionals
The Air Force conducted a thorough review of its flagship websites and social media sites to ensure content is reflective of those who serve within the Air Force. It is imperative in order to recruit and retain a diverse force of Air and Space Professionals that products and content showcase all who serve. The Department performed two reviews of airforce.com, social media and the AIM HIGH app. Diversity requirements are specifically spelled out in the task orders for the Air Force’s advertising and marketing contracts. As an example, the Digital Engagement Task Order states “all plans will include methods to attract a diverse candidate pool to include minorities and females. For this purpose, minorities shall refer to African American, Hispanic and Asian Pacific audiences.” The review found that all stated requirements are being met. To ensure inclusiveness of all who serve, the Air Force’s advertising agency is working to determine how to incorporate Department of the Air Force civilians into content as well.
Minority-serving institutions ROTC scholarships
In conjunction with the Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions and Citizen Development, the task force is working to increase and offer scholarships for nearly 300 current and future ROTC cadets attending historically black colleges and universities or Hispanic-serving institutions. The qualified recipients will receive a full-ride scholarship with full tuition and fees paid starting in the 2020-21 school year. The move is intended to increase minority representation in the officer ranks, which the Air Force has struggled with. Currently, racial and ethnic minorities make up 40% of the U.S. population but only 24% of the Air Force officer corps.
Revised dress and appearance regulation
In an effort to be more inclusive of all Airmen and Space Professionals, the task force worked to revise Air Force Instruction 36-2903, “Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel.” The changes include removal of subjective language, including the word “faddish” and references to complexion; both subjective terms that were in some cases disproportionately affecting specific demographic groups. The update also included authorization for men to wear their hair parted (cut, clipped or shaved), and authorization for name tapes to include diacritical accents, which aid in proper pronunciation and provide a more accurate representation of a legal name.
Diversity, Inclusion, and Unconscious Bias Training
The task force, in conjunction with headquarters staff, has finished post-production of a new video on unconscious bias to highlight bias mitigation strategies that will maximize talent and benefit the entire force. The task force is also working with Cornell University to enroll several members of the Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group in an online Diversity and Inclusion certificate program. These leaders will be equipped with fundamental diversity and inclusion concepts and required to share this information with their respective teams as well as Airmen and Space Professionals at the major command and installation levels. The task force is assembling options for department leaders to determine their intent for how training will be rolled out to the forces over the coming months and years, and at what touch points in the talent management life cycle of Airmen and Space Professionals that training will be most effective.
Improved shaving waiver procedures
In conjunction with the Air Force Surgeon General, the task force used feedback from the field to improve the shaving waiver process. Air and Space Professionals who have been diagnosed with pseudofolliculitis barbae, or PFB, are now authorized five-year shaving waivers. The previous policy required PFB waivers to be updated annually or when a member moved to a new duty location. In some cases, members who had been previously diagnosed with PFB were required to get a new waiver when they moved or deployed, forcing them to shave and aggravate their skin condition or have limited duties while they awaited a new medical appointment. This change is intended to eliminate the burdensome waiver process that was negatively impacting minority members, as PFB more frequently occurs in Black/African American males, and it also allows more time for the skin to heal properly. The waiver will be valid for five years from the date of issuance, or upon an updated diagnosis, and will remain valid regardless of the member’s deployment or new permanent change of station location.
“Our work is certainly cut out for us and we have a list of items to tackle, but we are listening and we hear you,” said Brig. Gen. Troy Dunn, Air Force director of Military Force Policy and recently appointed director of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. “Racial disparity is a national issue that impacts all facets of American life and we will not rest until our Airmen and Space Professionals feel like they truly belong and are thriving in an organization that values diversity and equality.”