By Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Public Affairs
/ Published November 24, 2014
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Diversity in thought and approach is critical to innovation, and is a military necessity. It empowers Airmen to overcome challenges the service members face with executing global missions and growing responsibilities.
However, gaining the innovative edge requires commitment to fostering and empowering a diverse team to bring together different experiences, cultures and perspectives.
As Apple's Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook recently stated, "A company that loves creativity and innovation knows it can only flourish when you embrace people's differences."
The Air Force Technical Applications Center here is taking the necessity for diversity very seriously, and is championing multiple programs and initiatives to emphasize the importance of the issue.
Broadly defined, diversity is a composite of individual characteristics, experiences and abilities that complement and enhance the all-volunteer total force. In 2012, the Air Force developed an instruction that provides policy and oversight to the subject of diversity that goes beyond historically-underrepresented minority groups. Now, the definition includes geographic backgrounds, work experience, language abilities, philosophical and spiritual perspectives, and educational and socioeconomic backgrounds to accompany the more common categories of age, race, ethnicity and gender.
Col. Chris Worley, AFTAC's commander, held several focus group meetings with his employees asking for candid feedback on what programs were working and what needed improvement.
"The single recurring theme I heard was the need for more diversity in the center, especially from a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) perspective," said Worley. "So we formed committees to develop programs that address modern-day diversity strategies and determine how we can harness the best talents of everyone here at AFTAC and put them to great use."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 70 percent of the STEM workforce is made up of white workers, and 74 percent of STEM workers are male. The next closest group is Asians, which makes up just 14.5 percent of STEM workers, with Hispanics/Latinos/African Americans coming in a distant third, representing about 6.5 percent.
"Industry, government, and academic leaders cite increasing the STEM workforce as a top concern," said Dr. Liana Christin Landivar from the Industry and Occupation Statistics Branch of the U.S. Census Bureau. "One focus area for increasing the STEM workforce has been to reduce disparities in STEM employment by sex, race and ethnicity."
AFTAC is the sole organization in the U.S. government whose mission is to detect and report technical information from nuclear explosions. Of the 900+ people who work at the nuclear treaty monitoring center, 151 members have associates degrees, 101 have bachelor's degrees, 192 have master's degrees and 56 have doctoral degrees.
Examining those statistics, it is evident that AFTAC is an academic degree-laden military organization, primarily because of its highly technical and specialized mission. It stands to reason, then, that the center's current demographics are weighted more towards a white male-dominated STEM workforce. It's a trend Worley hopes to alter.
"Inclusion and outreach are the keys to making this initiative a success," he said. "If you look at the face of the Air Force today, it doesn't resemble the force in which our grandparents served. Today, our diversity can be seen in the eyes of our service members who, just a few years ago, were prevented from openly serving. You can see it in the eyes of female pilots, black general officers and Hispanic engineers, just to name a few. We all have various reasons for serving, but when it comes down to it, we're all members of the same team - the same diverse team."
After conducting focus group meetings, Worley continued with a full-court press to introduce diversity to all facets of the center's mission. He issued a directive mandating diversity on all employment selections, in which hiring boards must ensure at least one member of gender diversity or one member of ethnic diversity is included as a panel member when interviewing civilian candidates.
"Col. Worley's directive is consistent with the Secretary of the Air Force's intent to attract and recruit highly talented people with difference perspective," said Rick Bedford, AFTAC's chief of Civilian Personnel. "In all cases of hiring boards, the best qualified candidate will be selected and will be consistent with the Merit System principles. Having diversity on the panel illustrates just how important the issue is to the leadership here."
Additionally, Worley created a formal position in AFTAC's Human Resources Division that specifically tracks trends and statistics of diversity issues. He seized recruiting opportunities by sending a team to attend the 41st annual conference of the National Organization for Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers in New Orleans. And most recently, Worley and his staff hosted an inaugural symposium whose central theme was to support and focus on women in STEM fields.
"One of the goals I set for the symposium was to find role models, both male and female, from a cross-section of fields, cultures, backgrounds and organizations, and listen to their success stories and professional lessons learned," he said. "I believed we not only met those goals, but exceeded them."
Worley is looking to the future to continue the center's progress on this initiative. He plans to establish affinity groups made up of minorities to create peer networks within the treaty monitoring center. He's also tasked his HR staff to develop an equal employment opportunity training program to educate the civilians and active duty members of AFTAC.
"It's critical that we continue to shine the light on this issue, because our future depends on it," said Worley.
The Air Force is not alone in its quest to incorporate diversity into its core values. The highest levels of government all the way to the White House have diligently worked to reinforce the importance of establishing collaborative relationships with many stakeholders from all walks of life and championed the need to promote mutual respect and trust in the workforce.
"The greatest strength of our Air Force is our Airmen," said Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force Chief of Staff. "The greatest strength of our Airmen is their diversity! Each of them comes from a different background, a different family experience and a different social experience. Each brings a different set of skills and a unique perspective to the team. We don't just celebrate diversity...we embrace it!"