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One year of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility: Building a foundation for trust

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jimmie D. Pike
  • Pacific Air Force Public Affairs
Approximately one year ago, early 2022, the newly created Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility (DEIA) chief position was created at Pacific Air Forces headquarters with Tony Cruz hired to assist teams across PACAF improve organizational culture and trust.

Being aligned directly under the major command’s deputy commander, the position aims to ensure DEIA’s recognition and importance as one of the Air Force’s most important priorities. Upon Cruz’s introduction to the position, Lt. Gen. James Jacobson, PACAF Deputy Commander, provided him immediate direction to get running with the program.

“When I first got here, the DCOM asked me to go out and visit all the installations,” said Cruz. “I took the first 90 days and met with every director on the headquarters staff to get their input and learn how they see diversity and inclusion, and how they saw my office best contributing to their teams.”

After the initial meetings with leaders on the PACAF Staff, Cruz set out to visit each of the nine installations within the region as directed.

“When I visited the installations, I met with the wing commanders, the vice wing commanders and the command chiefs individually,” said Cruz. “I wanted to understand how they view diversity and inclusion; and also, how I could help their specific installations.”

At each installation, Cruz also held three sensing sessions in addition to his talks with leaders. Each session focused on a different demographic to gain a larger perspective on how people throughout the PACAF military community understood and considered diversity and inclusion.

Cruz explained that there were a few challenges when it came to building an environment which properly leverages DEIA in the Air Force. One of the most important challenges was ensuring everyone was on the same page about what diversity and inclusion was.

“The thing we need to build is conceptual clarity, which is getting the Air Force and Airmen to understand what it is that we're talking about,” said Cruz. “There is diversity which is one thing, and inclusion which is something different. Conceptual clarity is getting people to see diversity and inclusion through the same lens.”

Cruz went on to explain diversity as not just about race, gender, or orientation, but also about different lived-experiences, different financial statuses, location one was raised in and just about everything in between affecting a person’s perspective and understanding of the world around them.

Through his analysis of the Diversity and Inclusion programs across PACAF, Cruz found that programs were run by volunteers, some who weren’t necessarily equipped to handle the intricate conversations that come with building the foundation of a professional culture based on leveraging the strength of diversity.

“At the end of the day, the message I delivered to my boss was ‘We can’t continue to operate the DEIA program like this,” said Cruz. “If we really want to create something that’s going to be meaningful, sustainable and enduring, we need to start all over and build a solid foundation with conceptual clarity.”

Since delivering his belief in rebuilding the program, Cruz has worked to get full-time DEIA positions at each location to keep the program aligned with Air Force intent, direction, and training standards.

“We now have a full time DEIA person out at each of the installations,” said Cruz. “We have an onboarding plan for them, and We’re investing in their training. We are sending them to the right classes so that they can bring back some tools that are going to be very productive for the wings.”

To maintain the high standard of readiness Cruz believes the DEIA subject matter experts need, he is holding a virtual conference here at the end of March which will include courses on generational leadership, psychological safety, conflict resolution, and creating more inclusive environments. An in-person conference will also be held in August to continue their training.

“All the work that we do from here gets after making sure there's trust in the organization, and that our Airmen feel they are free to get after being the best versions of themselves,” said Cruz. “Trust is foundational to everything. We're going to put it in everything we do.”