WASHINGTON (AFNS) —
The Department of the Air Force gathered key leadership and stakeholders for its premier Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Conference Sept. 18-20 at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
This year’s theme, “Respect, Recruit, Retain and Ready,” aimed to empower all Airmen and Guardians, emphasizing the need for inclusive leadership, trust and belonging amid an evolving battlefield.
Marianne Malizia, Secretary of the Air Force Diversity and Inclusion director, stressed the critical importance of the conference themes.
“In the vast expanse of air and space, diverse perspectives and inclusive strategies are paramount. Our mission revolves around nurturing a culture where everyone feels valued and knows they belong. Their voices, ideas and insights aren’t merely heard — they’re actively pursued to enhance our mission.” -Secretary of the Air Force Diversity and Inclusion Director Marianne Malizia
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall initiated the conference with an opening day keynote, underscoring the pivotal roles of respect and readiness in accomplishing the mission.
“For me, it’s always all about readiness, it’s all about capacity [and] capability,” he said. “It’s about deterrence, and it’s about the ability to win if we have to fight. You win when you have the strongest team on the field, and you win when you have a team where everybody can trust everybody else and work together as a team to achieve a common goal.”
Kendall stressed the link between mutual respect and readiness, stating that by fostering a sense of worth in every team member, mission success is inevitable.
“That’s what we’re trying to build, and you build that by making sure everybody feels valued,” he said. “You build it by making sure everybody gets to work to their full potential, everybody is treated fairly and equally so they want to be on the team, and you’re invested in them and their level of capability.”
Speaking on the essence of leadership, Kendall offered an insightful perspective to leaders on empathy and inclusivity.
“It’s important for leaders to understand and have empathy for the people they lead as much as possible,” he said. “You can be a much more effective leader if you do that. If you start to be more inclusive and bring people into the conversation, you’re going to get better ideas and better solutions.”
DAF Diversity and Inclusion leaders later unveiled the Department of the Air Force Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Strategic Plan, formalized mere hours before the event’s commencement.
“The the elements of the strategy we just signed, are incredibly sound and focus on the mission, focus on culture and focus on institutionalizing things we believe in,” Kendall said.” All these things are going to pay dividends as we move forward.”
Col. Jenise Carroll, SAF DI deputy director, and Chief Master Sgt. Don Pedro, SAF DI senior enlisted leader, addressed stakeholders on the value and importance of the SAF DI Mission and Strategy.
According to Carroll, SAF DI’s Mission and Strategy evolve around the understanding that the strength of the DAF doesn’t just lie in our technological prowess or advanced weaponry, but in Airmen and Guardians who volunteer to serve.
“The essence of Respect, Recruit, Retain and Ready is intertwined deeply within the SAF DI mission and strategy,” she said. “By respecting and valuing the unique perspectives of every individual, we lay the foundation for recruiting a diverse, dynamic workforce. This, in turn, ensures we retain world-class talent that’s always ready to meet and overcome any challenge.”
Carroll stated embedding these principles into strategy ensures the DAF isn’t just preparing for today’s threats but innovating for tomorrow’s challenges.
Pedro said the heart of the SAF DI mission and strategy is an understanding that our true might comes from our diversity.
“I’ve served alongside some of the most dedicated individuals in my career, and what stands out is not just their dedication to the mission, but their diverse backgrounds, their stories and their challenges,” he said. “Our SAF DI mission recognizes this. It ties directly to ‘Respect, Recruit, Retain and Ready’, ensuring that every individual, irrespective of their background, feels respected, is actively recruited, is retained for their unparalleled skills, and is always ready to rise to the challenges we face.”
In a question-and-answer session with Malizia, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller and performing the duties of Under Secretary of the Air Force Kristyn Jones said recruiting a diverse group and focusing on retaining both Airmen and Guardians, especially during times of heightened global competition, is of paramount importance.
“We need you. We need all of you. We need the talents of our great American population in order to be ready for the future, and that is where we’re required to think about retention and recruitment,” said Jones. “Everything that you all are doing here is breaking down those barriers.”
Jones also spoke on mentoring and sponsorship, two crucial components for the Department of the Air Force in its recruitment and retention initiatives.
“Culturally, I think we still have a way to go to be able to get those mentoring and sponsorship programs in place,” she said. “Even without a program, people can to reach out to somebody who doesn’t look just like you–they have a different background, different race, different gender—and you’re taking the time to get to know them and able to represent them when they’re not in the room.”
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass closed out the conference with a session addressing questions from the Airmen and Guardians, and ending the conversation with heartfelt gratitude and a powerful message.
“Leaders, thanks for investing in yourself and thanks for spending three days to make yourself better again in order to make our Air Force better, “she said. “I very much appreciate seeing these senior leaders throughout the audience who are working incredibly hard to help build the Force of the Future.”
Bass emphasized unity and the shared responsibility towards an inclusive environment.
“These aren’t women challenges, male challenges, Asian-American challenges, African-American challenges, or LGBTQI+ challenges,” she said. “These are people challenges, and all of us have a responsibility to create an environment where every single one of us can thrive.”