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Leaders: Make diversity part of National Guard’s DNA

The Nevada Air Guard's Col. Ondra Berry, special assistant for diversity and special adviser to Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, addresses hundreds at the Diversity Conference in Reno.

The Nevada Air Guard's Col. Ondra Berry, special assistant for diversity and special adviser to Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, addresses hundreds at the Diversity Conference in Reno.

RENO -- Diversity is essential to the National Guard's success, senior leaders said here last week to about 500 people attending the 2012 National Guard Diversity Conference.
"Diversity defines America, and the National Guard is America," Army Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., director of the Army National Guard, said in remarks read by Army Maj. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, deputy director of the Army National Guard.

"Encouraging diversity in our ranks is not something we just dreamed up a few years ago," Ingram said, "The National Guard has been and always will be a fundamental part of our communities where we live work and play - and we reflect the faces of those communities in our ranks."

Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, described two key characteristics of the National Guard to the conference hosted by the Nevada National Guard.  "Number 1, we all posses individuality," McKinley said. "We encourage it, we think that's what's important, we don't want to destroy it. "We also believe that out of many, become one. So the individual - all of us - create the desire and passion that molds and shapes us into one large, powerful and effective organization. ... Out of many, one voice." 

During his tenure as chief, McKinley has reinvigorated the National Guard's diversity program. Among other initiatives:

· A national level Joint Executive Diversity Council.
· Joint diversity councils in each of the 54 states and territories and the District of Columbia.
· A cargo-pocket-size "Leader's Guide to Diversity" available to every Guard member, giving Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen of all ranks a convenient tool for hip-pocket training.
· Virtual diversity conferences that Guard members can join at the click of a mouse - a concept now being tested by other components.
· Strengthened relationships with affinity groups.
· An agreement with the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute to provide diversity training for rising leaders.

"We are well on our way to implementing all the tools," McKinley said. "We need to create more passion in our hearts for this program. We've got the science. We've got the way ahead in terms of numeric achievements, goals. We've got metrics. We've got handbooks. This has got to be a program, a project, a mission, a journey that's embedded deeply inside our hearts."

McKinley's own evolution in diversity was charted in a 2011 Diversity Executive magazine profile that outlined his youth during the civil rights movement; his three-month DEOMI education in preparation for his assignment as an equal opportunity and treatment officer; his experiences during that assignment and his subsequent decision as chief of the National Guard Bureau to appoint a special assistant for diversity and push the message from the top down.

"We don't have time to wait for the system to bring results that we all in this room know and desire and in our hearts know we can produce," McKinley said. "Take the opportunity to look at the process. Make sure it is fair. Make sure it brings up the best and brightest. And, when you have a chance, up lift a person who needs just a chance to show what he or she is made of. ... Results speak for themselves."

Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, director of the Air National Guard, imagined a time when events such as last week's conference and simultaneous Reno-based meeting of the Joint Executive Diversity Council will not be necessary.  "One of these days, diversity will be such a part of our culture that we won't need ... diversity councils because it will just be a way of life, it will be part of our DNA so that we will be the strong force that only diversity can get us to," Wyatt said. 

Wyatt described a hypothetical meeting where key leaders make strategic decisions.  "Think about the opportunities and the thought-processes that would be available to you if ... you had men and women; you had African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Hawaiian islanders; you had heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals; you had Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists; if you had rich people, poor people, middle income people; if you had ... graduates [of a variety of colleges] - you get my point," Wyatt said.

"If you bring that diversity of background inside that thought-process, don't you think you would have many more courses of action, many more ideas, much better ideas - and, yes, it might be a little more difficult to come to a consensus, but it sure would beat the heck out of having a lot of people sit around the table nodding their heads," he said. "That's the strength of diversity."

Wyatt offered a challenge. "We've got to attack this diversity issue with the same fervor and dedication that we attack those things that began happening to us on 9/11," he said. "It's time to operationalize diversity. Think of diversity as a weapons system that is a force multiplier that will allow us to get the mission done no matter what. The more diverse we are, the quicker we will meet those challenges and the better the solutions will be. That's the power of diversity.

"We can't just put people in places and think that that's going to solve diversity. We have got to instill in our organization the processes and, if you will, the DNA that will sustain itself from this point forward."