Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Pillars for Empowerment

By Tara Davis, Army Resilience DirectorateFebruary 28, 2023

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“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” This quote from Audre Lorde, an American writer, professor and civil rights activist, encapsulates the importance of our differences and how learning to acknowledge them is what can help unify us. It’s important to remember that our Soldiers, Civilians and their Families are people first and that their readiness and resilience are determined by our ability to understand and connect with them.

One of the ways we can start to connect with our Soldiers is by prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). These three topics are the pillars on which we can build an environment that supports progress and encourages thoughtful interactions among different groups of people. When we recognize and accept that not everyone shares the same background, experiences and abilities, we can focus on how each of us brings a unique piece of the puzzle to the table.

DEI is more critical to the Army’s mission than leaders and Soldiers may think; it’s the backbone that allows the Army to accomplish its goals. Lt. Col. TC Kenneth French from the Army Equity and Inclusion Agency shares: “Put simply, the principles found in DEI programs enable the Army to better accomplish its mission—to fight and win our nation’s wars. Diverse teams innovate faster. Inclusive environments bring employees a sense of belonging, which allows them to feel safer and boosts retention. Inclusive environments are also associated with a lower propensity for harmful behaviors.”

It’s important to remember that each pillar of DEI represents a different concept that leaders must be mindful of and address. Although they are interrelated, they are separate entities. French explains that each of these pillars comes with its challenges and issues for the Army. “The Army does not have diversity goals or quotas for recruits,” he says. “Rather, the Army’s challenges of diversity—whether examining demographic diversity, geographic diversity or diversity of thought within the force—often leads to barriers or inequities that may need to be addressed.”

While the Army is working to address this and other DEI concerns, there’s still a ways to go, and we need to be conscious of how we approach these issues. By examining them individually, we can make a better framework for success than by trying to address them all at once. French says, “DEI represents a wide range of challenges or issues that, taken together, push the force in a positive direction. However, lumping them together risks a rejection of them in total.”

One of the ways that the Army Equity and Inclusion Agency has tried to tackle DEI is through the “Your Voice Matters” listening sessions. This initiative started in 2020 and aims to encourage introspection and to build cohesive teams by leading participants through conversations that may be uncomfortable and by getting the feedback directly to the Secretary of the Army.

“Your Voice Matters” works through the efforts of the Army’s Project Inclusion. Both of these initiatives were accomplished through an adapted version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which created the framework for the Army’s WHO leadership model. This model targets the first-line leaders and how they can lead these conversations and know what questions to ask of Soldiers in their care. WHO stands for:

W: Who are your people?

H: How do they show up?

O: What do they Offer?

The aim of this model is to build better teams through self-actualization—aka, inclusion and cohesion.

French explains that this model allows leaders to understand the unique characteristics that each Soldier brings to the team and helps to facilitate inclusive and cohesive teams.

“Leaders should also open up and share with their Soldiers using the WHO leadership model questions,” he says. “Building trust isn’t a one-way conversation with Soldiers.”

He shares that these conversations can get easier by having them, and that when we do have them, it’s important to draw the line between what the Army’s DEI program is and what it is not. “Like most things, the first conversation is the most difficult. I think establishing clear lines of what the Army’s DEI program is (e.g., optimizing talent, creating equal opportunity, building inclusive climates and culture) and what it is not (e.g., critical race theory, wokeness, solely about demographic representation/quotas, lowering standards) will allow for better follow-up conversations.”

Many changes to Army culture and policies have occurred over this past year, including substantial improvements to parental, pregnancy and postpartum policies; the creation of the Women’s Initiative Team; and Army Command and tactical units creating DEI Counsels. French says, “These initiatives often challenge the status quo or current culture of these organizations and can be difficult to sustain. In this aspect, nothing can supplant the personal involvement of Command Teams, minimizing bureaucracy and clearly communicating the purpose of any policy changes.”

The Army Equity and Inclusion Agency offers information, resources and reports on DEI as well as other information on Project Inclusion.

If you are looking for ways to develop your own introspection and build readiness, the Army Resilience Directorate website offers resources that can help. To learn more, visit https:/www.armyresilience.army.mil/ard/R2- home.html.