Diversity and inclusion are now focal points in Air Force personnel decisions, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said on Nov. 17.
In the aftermath of race-related protests across the country, the Air Force implemented a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, received hundreds of thousands of responses to a survey on diversity, and launched an Inspector General review of racial inequality in military justice and promotion, among other efforts. These steps, combined with the climate across the nation, have changed how the service talks about race.
“I think the conversations have been pretty good. … They have been pretty rough,” Brown said during a virtual discussion hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “We’ve had, across the Air Force, a number of small group sessions where Airmen can get together and talk through what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking. … The feedback I have, as I go to different locations and talk to our leadership teams, is they really get pretty raw, and get pretty emotional. But, at the same time, they’re very eye opening. … There’s more empathy, I would say.”
At the higher level of the Air Force, diversity has moved to the forefront of personnel decisions such as promotions and hiring, Brown said.
“It was almost like, in some cases in the past, when you talk about diversity, folks were afraid to bring it up that you didn’t have a slate of diverse candidates, or there wasn’t an African American, Asian American, a woman on the slate,” he said. “Now, it’s almost like they’ve got to be on the slate and be considered. And so, as an institution and as a nation, we are more apt to talk about diversity, more so than we have in the past. Now, we’ve got to get past talk. … It’s what we do. It’s how we actually bring in … individuals and give them the opportunity.”
Brown used his own experience as the Air Force’s first Black Chief of Staff, and the first Black officer to lead any of the U.S. military services, as an example. While he said he’s proud of who he is and of his background, “There’s a number of people qualified to do any one of these jobs. … There’s probably several officers that are qualified to be the first African American Chief of Staff for the Air Force or for any other service. I just happen to be the first to have the opportunity.”
The Air Force needs to ensure it makes opportunities available to diverse candidates by seeking them out. Brown said he has been trying to do this himself as he built his staff since taking the job in August.
“I hire for diversity, because they all bring a different perspective, which makes my decisions that much better, because I hear different sides of the argument,” he said. “They all see it differently, you know. … Hearing from all these different groups provides a perspective, you know, ‘I didn’t think about that part.’ It makes us stronger as an Air Force, and I think it makes us stronger as a nation as well.”