How can the military adjust to keep pace in a changing world? Serving military officers answer here in a new series of features in collaboration with Military Leadership Circle (MLC). The United States Air Force graduated its first ten female pilots from undergraduate pilot training on September 2, 1977. More than 40 years later, only 5.8% of Air Force pilots are female. Furthermore, only 6% of the Air Force’s general officers and 9% of wing commanders are a member of any U.S. minority group. Problems with diversity and inclusiveness are not specific to the military, however: still only 5.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Across the globe, whether in the military or private sector, gender disparity remains one of the most critical issues being faced today. This is not merely a statistical issue; on a global scale, countries that provide women with equal rights are more stable, more secure, and more peaceful. They are also more economically prosperous, have a higher literacy rate, and witness less ethnic, racial, or tribal discrimination. Gender equality is, as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice outlines in “Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom”, one of the most critical metrics for successful democratic transition and the key to movements for freedom abroad. In promoting gender equality, we are supporting a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous world. But for the United States, this is a cause that must also be championed at home. In 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, ending racial segregation in the military—the rest of American society soon followed suit. Indeed, the American military has often been the leader for social progress, not only in this country but also throughout the world. That work continues today: under the leadership of Deborah Lee James and General Mark Welsh, and now Secretary Heather Wilson and General David Goldfein, the United States Air Force has taken huge strides to improve diversity and inclusiveness. The organization has launched thirteen new initiatives aimed at eliminating systemic barriers to diversity, from recruitment to training to promotion. These initiatives are promising steps toward eliminating gender disparity in the ranks, and more can be done. One of the diversity initiatives the Air Force has undertaken is to mandate unconscious bias training for selection board members who make critical placement and promotion decisions. But unconscious biases do not just affect selection for jobs or promotions; they affect how we treat one another, how we perceive and prioritize information, how we mentor and provide feedback, how we make critical decisions, and how we mitigate risks in our daily tasks. They affect our lives persistently and yet subtly. Within each action and decision, we have the potential to let our biases inform our judgement. We all have the responsibility to be aware of our own fallibility and take ownership of its consequences. To this end, unconscious bias awareness training should not be limited to promotion boards, but rather integrated on a much broader basis. Whether gender equality is one of the causes we champion or not, we all need to recognize our own vulnerability to unconscious biases. We must do so without negativity, but rather with humility and grace. As we become more aware of our own biases, we can surround ourselves with people who can help us see where we may be blind. Inaction is not an option: the status quo is constantly reinforced by our unconscious biases. And that status quo, we all now know, is a significant barrier not just to equality, but to development and security on a global scale. About the author: Thomas Higginbotham is a Captain in the United States Air Force and a member of the Military Leadership Circle. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent the positions of the Department of Defense, United States Air Force, or any government agency. More information on the Military Leadership Circle can be found at https://militaryleadershipcircle.com.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.