Air Force and Diversity: The Awkward Embrace
Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States
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Attitudes towards diversity in the Air Force range widely some Airmen perceive diversity as an assault on unit culture or dismiss the need for further attention to diversity, believing all issues were resolved with integration. These attitudes demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the Air Forces guidance on diversity, which is stated clearly in Air Force Instruction 1-1 as a military necessity. They contribute to the resulting discordance between Air Force intentions and effective programs and policies to retain and develop a diverse corps. This is evidenced by the alarming rate at which Air Force officer women decide to leave the military, as 50 percent have separated by the 7-year mark approximately 30 percent of the officer men have separated at the same juncture. Rarely do Airmen actually embrace diversity as key to greater mission success.There are several steps that can help reverse the retention trends. First, the Air Force needs a clear-eyed understanding of the diversity challenges that lie ahead and the importance of diversity to the mission and to the health of the force. Second, an evaluation of Air Force diversity efforts to date will reveal needed areas for improvement. Third, recommended policy and program changes, like breaks-in-service and focused mentoring plans, will help develop and retain competent officers. Senior leadership advocacy is needed over many years, to ensure the right resources, policies, programs and culture are in place to build the diverse Air Force necessary to tackle increasingly complex mission sets.