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Inclusion as a foundation for strong teams

Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. --

In honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride month and the victims of the recent shooting in Orlando, I feel it is important to touch on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Despite the tremendous progress in LGBT rights made over the past few years, LGBT people still face discrimination for being who they are. While I feel the military has made a smooth transition, there is still work to be done in our nation with respect to the LGBT community. The work needed takes everyday integrated efforts. I believe the daily actions each and every one of us takes to treat each other with dignity and respect creates the foundation to overcome discrimination. A focus on dignity and respect is also fundamental in developing strong teams. Strong teams are what we need to accomplish the mission and make the Air Force the best it can be and solve today’s problems and plan for tomorrow’s challenges.


Advancing the fair treatment of all people is the foundation of our country’s values. We in the military fight to preserve these values. We can continue to make strides in this area by always treating each other with dignity and respect. This is the cornerstone of the principle of inclusion. Inclusion is defined as a culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility and fairness; to enable individuals to contribute to their full potential. Furthermore, inclusion “is the mechanism to integrate diversity and create diverse teams. The goal of inclusion and respect is that members recognize and agree to work together respectfully across differences.” This goal invites us to build strong teams and nurture a climate in which all members are valued for their contributions and their individual character and commitment regardless of individual identity or philosophies. Inclusion helps people feel safe and develops an environment in which members can contribute their best effort to reach organizational goals. A climate of inclusion is also linked with greater innovation, productivity and retention. When someone feels safe and supported they are more likely to want to be part of the team. The Air Force relies on strong teamwork to accomplish the mission and take care of its most valuable asset — its people — particularly with our currently limited resources. It is vitally important that we all strive to develop an environment that is inclusive of all types of diversity: race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, thoughts and beliefs. Each of us is unique, and when we appreciate that fact it makes us stronger as a whole.


Diversity is more than race, gender and ethnicity, it also includes diversity of thought, ability, background, language, culture and skill. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion. According to AF General Counsel Gordon Tanner, “She is particularly interested in diversity of thought, and that comes to a workplace when there are people of different backgrounds, experiences and cultures working together.” He further went on to say that Secretary James believes diversity will make the Air Force “richer and stronger” and better able to face the challenges of today and achieve our important strategic mission. A diverse workforce is the lifeblood of the Air Force, and diverse perspectives and approaches are essential to solving complex and challenging issues. Valuing diversity means valuing and uncovering the talents of all of our employees, and that means creating a workplace characterized by inclusion.


The concept of inclusion hits home with me. In trying to wrap my head around the scope of diversity in the Air Force and to find a framework for us to optimize our differences, I see inclusion as the mechanism to do this. It is the right thing to do to make our units better. Diversity of thought makes for better decisions. When we consider different perspectives, especially those different from our own thoughts and beliefs, we often come up with more robust and lasting solutions. Getting to know each other and our different perspectives and experiences help us better understand each other, thus building trust and teamwork. A strong team can weather a storm and come out triumphant. Strong teams can achieve much more than a solo individual could alone. Teams have a purpose, goals, and a support system. Teams in the Air Force are made up of people from different cultures, religions, genders, races, abilities, political perspectives and sexual orientations. The Air Force is diverse, and working toward inclusion helps build teams of individuals that feels like they belong. Regardless or our backgrounds we are all here for a common purpose, to defend freedom and the United States of America.


Recent changes in the law allow Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual members to serve openly without the fear of potentially losing their job. This allows LGB military members to truly abide by our first core value, integrity first. LGB members can now go to work and be honest about who they are without fear of reprisal. They can serve their country and be true to themselves and their teammates. It is a win-win. The member feels safe and thus will be more likely to contribute to the team and this benefits the organization by having a fully integrated team member.


It is vitally important to help all Air Force members feel like integral parts of the team. Inclusion is one component to building lasting teams. We have a responsibility to ensure all Airman and their families have an opportunity to be a part of a safe, inclusive and respectful climate where they are valued for their contributions to their team and the mission and for their individual commitment and character and not identified only for their race, religion, sexual orientation or background. Creating a climate of respect and inclusion benefits everyone. What can you do to help build an inclusive team? Strive to be visible active role model of respect and fairness in your organization, use inclusive language, do not tolerate disrespectful behavior or jokes or comments directed toward others and don’t stay silent if you know of others are participating in disrespectful behaviors. It is not always easy to speak up or take action, but if we all do, then it will be easier to make lasting change to our culture. Inclusion starts with each of us understanding our own biases and beliefs. From there we can truly step back and begin to be open to others beliefs and backgrounds, ultimately leading to better understanding, a sense of belonging and ultimately stronger teams. It takes all of us to build an inclusive Team V. I personally would like to thank the men and women of Vandenberg for being open and inclusive and making me and my family feel welcome. I am proud to be a part of the team.