The Department of the Air Force, in support 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.
Also, on June 2, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett and service chiefs, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and USSF Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond, directed the Inspector General to independently review the service’s record on military discipline as well as leader development opportunities for Black/African American Airmen and Space Professionals.
The task force is charged with identifying and changing policies, procedures, barriers and other practices that may be unfairly impacting underrepresented Air and Space Professionals. It is postured to identify near-term problems and solutions that will have immediate benefits for members, with a focus on policies particularly impacting minority members. It has been tasked to be mindful of not impacting or assuming results from the IG’s review, and is therefore focused on immediate actions versus identification and action toward longer-term systemic and cultural issues the IG might identify.
“Clearly we have to acknowledge our Air and Space Forces are not immune from racism and the challenges of inequity. As a force that depends on unity, inclusion, and a common strength of purpose, we are committed to being better every day until all within our ranks feel a true sense of belonging that allows them to maximize their talents,“ said Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services. “This is why we stood up the task force, to move out quickly and deliver immediate improvements for our services.”
Capitalizing on continuous feedback from the force and the momentum from current national events, the task force is an agile cross-functional team of military and civilian Air and Space Professionals that represent communities within the services that bring subject matter expertise to the changes being considered. Members are comprised of Airmen of different ranks and perspectives, representing both minority and majority groups, whose sole focus is making changes that create an equitable environment for all Department of the Air Force personnel.
The task force is task-organized across five lines of effort:
– Culture and Policy
– Education, Training and Testing
– Recruiting and Accessions
– Workforce Diversity
– Aircrew Diversity
“We have a unique and historical opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of our Airmen and Space Professionals,” said Brig. Gen. Troy Dunn, Air Force director of Military Force Policy and recently appointed director of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working quietly behind the scenes to tackle these issues. Though we have a long road ahead, I’m really proud of the work this team has done. We want our people to know that we’re steadfast in our commitment to building an Air Force culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging.”
To date, the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force facilitated the following changes:
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, something the Air Force has struggled with. Currently, racial and ethnic minorities make up 40% of the U.S. population but only 24% of the 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 unfairly targeting 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 touchpoints in the talent management lifecycle 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,” Dunn said. “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.”