Diversity, why is it important?

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Diversity seems to be the buzzword in our military at this time. In fact, the Air Force deems it so important that it has a website on the subject (http://www.af.mil/Diversity).  But what is it?  Why is it important? And why should we care as leaders? 

Just look around you when you are at your next commander's call, wing promotion ceremony or wing run and you will see what diversity is and why it is important.  Without knowing someone personally you can see the diverse mix of people all around you; different skin colors, different ethnicities, genders, height, and sizes ...  I can go on and on. It would be even more varied knowing the individual's religion, sexual orientation, personal beliefs and political affiliation to name a few characteristics.  Put these traits together with one person and mix them up a little for other people and you have the diversified personnel that represent the U.S. Air Force.  These are the people we lead and those who will be our future leaders.

As you look at diversity don't look at it as the endpoint, but as a process of understanding of what is needed to accomplish the mission and make our Air force better.  The ultimate goal is for all to be able to freely input their ideas to reach their greatest and unit's greatest potential.

How do we become diverse leaders?

First, we must start with self-awareness.  We must understand our own influences, values, experiences, beliefs, perspectives and biases.  These are what shape who we are, how we lead and what we bring to the table.

Second, we need to know our people and be curious of the different backgrounds and experiences they have and how everyone interacts with each other with these differences.

Third, we combine one and two to better communicate and bring out better interaction within our organization and the most of those we lead.

Fourth, realize that difference in thinking and new ideas are not a hindrance, but might be an asset or your next big solution.

Fifth, create a culture and more inclusive environment where everyone can express their ideas and be a difference maker within the organization.

This all sounds easy in writing, but we all know we all feel comfortable with someone more like us or who has the same ideas or philosophies we have.  With our diverse Airmen we know there will be a vast array of ideas and other philosophies which as leaders is our job to make the right decisions and ensure we evaluate the other perspectives to make those right decisions.

Remember leadership starts from the top.  We need to manage diversity throughout the chain of command and organization.  You as the leader may have total buy in for the diversity idea, but if throughout your chain of command and unit there is no conscious effort for full-engagement you will naturally have disengaged Airmen who don't understand how to utilize the diverse talent in the organization to the highest level.

Look at diversity and its importance and how we handle business internationally.  With all the nations and people our Air Forces deals with on a daily basis, a stove piped approach on what we do would probably not work very well.  Using our Airmen and their ideas not only helps us complete our mission, but assists us in making daily decisions.

We, in the military, are very lucky because if you look at corporate America, there are companies that only wished they could be as diversified as we are in the military.  They are looking to have more women, minorities and ethnic backgrounds ... in their organization because they realize the world is changing and becoming more international and internationally aware.  We as leaders in the Air Force need to take advantage of what we have and use diversity to our advantage.  Our business is an international one and we deal with foreign countries every day, those array of ideas are the ones that are needed to advance and protect our country now and in the future.

I challenge you to be a diverse leader and instill more awareness in your unit and future leaders.  Our diverse society is here and it will only grow in the future. Stay ahead of the game and instill diversity in all you do.