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Redefining workplace diversity

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Louis Gallo
  • 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Commander
In my 18 plus years of service, I have witnessed one undeniable truth: the greatest strength of the United States Air Force lies with its human talent.

I can confidently attest that we are the most competent, well trained, technically savvy and highly educated fighting force on the planet.

I have also come to realize that in an ever-changing and complex environment, a team approach to problem-solving usually delivers a better outcome; and diverse teams usually come up with the most innovative and sustainable solutions.

I am very proud to serve in an Air Force that truly values diversity. I have witnessed the advancement and inclusion of a wide demographic workforce. The Air Force, throughout my career, has implemented many successful programs which ensure diversity throughout our ranks.

I know in the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, as I look out in the audience during squadron stand-up, I see a vast collection of cultures and ethnicities represented by both genders. It would be easy to say we have become a diverse Air Force because it was simply the right thing to do, and we had a civic duty to be equally inclusive of all people regardless of demographics.

While I love this Air Force and am very proud to serve, I don't believe we are that altruistic. The bottom-line for diversity is that it greatly improves productivity and fosters creativity. If we were not an all-inclusive organization, we would be negating a large pool of immensely talented individuals, and we would be a weaker service for it.

I recently read an article in the Economist titled, "Values Based Diversity, The Challenges and Strengths of Many." It got me thinking: do we need to become more aware that diversity encompasses not just inherent (e.g. race, gender) characteristics but also acquired (e.g. cultural fluency, global mindset, language skills) characteristics?

Many human resource officials are opening up to the idea that diversity is not just limited to the demographics or potential candidates, but also their values. It is my belief that the Air Force must continually adjust if it is going to maintain its competitiveness in recruiting and retaining top human talent. In fact, the evolving definition of diversity may require a strategic shift which could result in a cultural change in the Air Force.

One of biggest near-future challenges many global organizations will face is the insertion of 'millennials' into the work-force and the differing value system they bring. I am not suggesting millennials won't or can't adhere to the core values or we will need to alter them. We all know that's not an option.

Integrity will always be the foundation. We will always be a selfless service industry, and excellence will always be the goal. However, as our service employs more young Airmen, how we achieve excellence in all we do may begin to look different. The millennials are bringing a different set of office values reflecting a greater sense of independence, self-expression and creativity than any previous generation and will impact recruitment and retention.

For some, the simple answer will be to disregard the value differences and rely on forced assimilation to deal with this issue. But let's do the math to determine the probability of success of this outcome. By 2020, millennials will be half the workforce; and by 2035, they will be the workforce. So this generation of independent, highly educated, less structured and accomplishment driven workforce is coming.

The Air Force must be ready to accommodate them or lose out on their talent. To provide an environment that fosters excellence within this peer group, the in-garrison duty section is most likely going to evolve. We will be replacing phones with video chatting and instant messaging, cubicles with open floor plans and increasing technology to create more mobile work stations.

However, it won't all be a challenge. The younger generation already possesses values which are directly in-line with military service. This generation values achievement and meaningful work more than other generations, and I believe there is no more noble profession then serving your country.

They also place less value on monetary achievements, and I am sure nobody reading this article, whether in uniform or civilian, is doing what we do to get rich. Most importantly, I view this generation as both communicators and collaborators, two very important characteristics needed to solve today's emerging complex issues and to navigate an ever-changing operational environment.