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It’s All About People panel focuses on diversity, inclusion, respect

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Erin Smith, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

The Air Force Association hosted a human capital panel about attracting and retaining the most talented Airmen and Guardians Sept. 21 at the AFA Air, Space and Cyber Conference.

Retired Gen. Larry O. Spencer moderated the panel, titled “It’s All About People – Join Us,”  which featured Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones; retired Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr.; Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services; and Patricia Mulcahy, U.S. Space Force chief human capital officer.

When it comes to recruiting and retaining the top talent, Jones said the process is twofold: 

  • attracting talent as diverse as the opportunities and challenges the country faces, and 
  • being cognizant of the ways policies and actions demonstrate the value placed on one’s service.

“Everything that we do, every action, every policy that we implement is a reflection of the value that we place on one’s service,” Jones said. “If we keep that in mind, I think we will continue to be able to recruit the best talent that our nation has to offer.”

The panel agreed that the Air Force and Space Force must take actions now and some over the long haul to foster diversity and inclusion.

“We’ve got to retain the great Airmen who have come over and become Guardians and the great Guardians who are going to come from the other services,” Mulcahy said. “And so we need to put our money where our mouth is in becoming more inclusive and listening to our Guardians.”

Kelly referenced recent changes to dress and appearance and fitness changes that have helped increase diversity and inclusion. He said the last thing the Air Force wants to do is lower standards. Instead, leaders created options and changes that made Airmen and Guardians more ready to face peer threats. He said it would be more worrisome if the Air Force were less inclusive and less diverse — which would lead to it being a less talented Air Force.

“The power and strength of America is our diversity,” he said.

Rice said leaders have to approach the diversity as a team of one and they can’t get there without having candid conversations. He referenced the recent Inspector General Independent Racial Disparity Review in which the Air Force reviewed 100,000 comments from Airmen and Guardians.

“This is a complex problem … because you’re dealing with people,” he said. “You can’t just put it on an assembly line. … We’ve got to continue to put energy and institutional attention on it.”

Recruiting and retaining is more than a commercial, Jones said. It’s also how leadership responds to things like the RDR. She said these aren’t just diversity and inclusion issues, these are operational readiness issues.

The panel agreed that the Air Force and Space Force must create a culture of inclusion, dignity, and respect in order to develop Airmen and Guardians to be the best they can be.

“All the focus for us has to be on how do we make the best Air Force we can and how do we make the best Space Force we can to meet the threat that we have,” Kelly said.