Wright-Patt devotes office to Airmen equity

Kimberly Watson (left), the 88th Air Base Wing’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion chief; and April Barrows, diversity and inclusion program manager in the Resource Advocacy Office, are pictured Sept. 13 in the new DEI Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The organization has consolidated existing base services under one roof, including the Equal Opportunity Office, disability and affirmative-employment programs. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/R.J. ORIEZ
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Kimberly Watson (left), the 88th Air Base Wing’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion chief; and April Barrows, diversity and inclusion program manager in the Resource Advocacy Office, are pictured Sept. 13 in the new DEI Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The organization has consolidated existing base services under one roof, including the Equal Opportunity Office, disability and affirmative-employment programs. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/R.J. ORIEZ

Service-wide report highlights opportunities for growth

Even before the Air Force unveiled its comprehensive Disparity Review on Sept. 9, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office was kick-starting proactive conversations that will continue to foster a workplace environment based on merit, dignity and respect.

The Air Force established its Office of Diversity and Inclusion in December, and the base used that model to begin its own efforts this past spring in accordance with Air Force Materiel Command guidance.

“In my perfect world, climate surveys will come back saying people do feel included and believe they are actually part of the team,” said Kimberly Watson, who joined the DEI team as chief in June. “I hope the outcome of our work is just that everybody can feel like they have a voice and can make a difference.”

The DEI Office consolidated existing base services that shared the common mission of restoring and maintaining equity among Wright-Patt’s community of Airmen. Previously housed within Civilian Personnel, the disability and affirmative employment program managers now both serve under the DEI mission. Equal Opportunity services have also been incorporated.

The new office will devote many of its resources to educating Airmen on the lens of “unconscious biases,” through which they think and make decisions, Watson said, starting with base leadership and working outward.

Just this week, April Barrows, diversity and inclusion program manager in the Resource Advocacy Office, administered the training to the 88th Air Base Wing’s Top 4: Col. Patrick Miller, commander; Col. Charles Barkhurst, vice commander; Greg Leingang, vice director; and Chief Master Sgt. Jason Shaffer, wing command chief.

“I am very impressed with how interested (they) are in these topics at Wright-Patt,” Watson said. “They actually sit down and talk to us about what we are seeing, how they can help and whether there are barriers that they need to remove.”

“I think it sends a message to the base population that you know they are committed at the top.”

While the 200-page Disparity Review identified ethnic, racial and gender imbalances in the Air Force, authorities noted that not all disparity indicates discrimination.

Watson says transparent and free communication can target multiple root causes of a problem, whether real or perceived.

“I think that feedback and transparency will help,” she said. “Where are we underrepresented? We want to reach out to people who are not feeling included, for whatever reason. There are things we don’t know unless we get out there and start talking to people. So we communicate with a sense of wanting to actually learn about the issues they are seeing, and then we can see if the root cause is a true barrier or talk through it to educate Airmen about why decisions are occurring.”

And while the Wright-Patt DEI Office’s work is already underway, Watson said the disparity report data will help local officials define their baseline and pinpoint immediate areas of concern.

The office will serve the entire installation and continue refining its work to align with the wing mission and dynamic challenges and opportunities that arise in the base community.

“Our motto in the 88th is ‘Strength Through Support,’ and I know that when our teams consist of people with varied strengths, backgrounds and viewpoints, we are stronger for it. That will bolster the support we provide to our mission partners on the installation,” Leingang said.

“I am so excited to see the positive impacts that will come from having a dedicated and resourced organization focused on these issues.”