The U.S. Military Academy hosted the 19th annual Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Conference from Aug. 31-Sept. 2. More than 200 registered guests attended the multi-day conference, where the theme was “Every Voice Matters.”
Experts and leaders from across the Department of Defense, Departments of the Army and Air Force, as well as FBI representatives and university professors, spoke to audience members and participants from all walks of life.
In his opening remarks, Superintendent Lt. Gen. Steven Gilland said, “That’s how we’re able to get the job done. Through cohesive teams, who are trained, disciplined and fit, teams built on trust, mutual dignity and respect.
“Teams where every member’s experience and talents, the sum total of what makes each person unique, are being utilized and leveraged to accomplish the mission. Cohesive teams are both diverse and inclusive, where every voice matters,” Gilland added.
One goal of this conference was to “encourage our leaders to be more inclusive by demonstrating that inclusive leadership builds better teams and improves readiness,” according to Lisa Benitez, chief diversity officer in the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity. “Teams work harder because each individual team member knows that their opinions are valued — their voices are heard. Collaborative and inclusive teams are successful because they leverage their collective knowledge, skills and experiences to solve problems and accomplish their mission(s).”
Dr. Lisa Nishii, associate professor and vice provost for undergraduate education in the Human Resource Studies IRL School at Cornell University, led the Inclusion and Unconscious Bias Workshop. She delivered engaging lectures and facilitated thought-provoking dialogue among the small groups. When asked what she felt was most important to remember during her presentation, she said, “We all have bias, but we can change.”
“Dr. Nishii’s presentation was eye-opening and allowed me to reflect on my leadership style,” said Cadet Second Class Kyra Holmstrup of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. “Her talk helped me realize some of my own personal bias, and that I can improve on my active listening skills. I plan to take these lessons and use them to refine my leadership style.”
According to Amos Maldonado, West Point’s ODIEO training coordinator, the conference is a small win for the office, but there is more work to be done.
“Listening and treating people with dignity and respect is our core value, because when we value and understand each other, we build trust across our organization and we cultivate an inclusive and winning team,” he said.
As she prepares to commission with the USMA Class of 2023, Cadet Sophia McKenzie reflected on what she learned at the conference.
“We’re going to leave here and lead people of different backgrounds—it’s important to take in their perspectives,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie feels fortunate that West Point offers events like this one, and plans to attend future events hosted by the ODIEO.
She credits Nishii’s steps to interrupting unconscious bias as helping her grow as a leader.
Those steps are: notice when you may be acting with bias, slow down your own thinking, call out stereotyped views, actively look for counterstereotypical examples and increase interactions with different (people) and engage in perspective-taking.
“West Point is very diverse,” McKenzie said. She is pleased that the U.S. Military Academy is a place with a “diverse group of people who are willing to seek out opportunities to learn more, and be better for those we’ll lead in the future.”
McKenzie plans on attending more events like this one in the future and encourages others to do the same.