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NEWS | Jan. 5, 2023

Colorado National Guard belonging initiative drives employee awareness

By By Sgt. 1st Class. Joseph K. VonNida, Colorado National Guard

People, by nature, are diverse. People are also the key to meeting our National Guard missions.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion can be an uncomfortable topic for military leaders, service members, and the civilian workforce. But the meaning behind them, belonging, is the driving force that builds the readiness and lethality of the people tasked to deploy, fight and win the nation’s wars and maintain global vigilance, reach and power.

Taylor Duffy, Colorado National Guard and Department of Military and Veterans Affairs chief diversity officer and Alphonso Sanders, state equal employment manager for the CONG, are key advisors and managers of DEI for the CONG and DMVA.

“My role is to advise The Adjutant General on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging initiatives, policies and programs, serve as the organizations Executive Sponsor for the Employee Resource Groups, and advocate for our members,” Duffy said.

Duffy, also a U.S. Army first lieutenant with 3rd Battalion, 157th Field Artillery, CONG, wants to empower command teams to embrace DEI within their ranks and encourage increased awareness of how a diverse force is a strong force. She is trying to encourage awareness in how people think and respond, something that can be hard for people, especially if it’s a change they don’t like.

“I want to encourage commanders to reach out to me if they need to facilitate discussions,” she said. “So it’s really an educational piece that I hold: I ask, teach, evaluate and report on the organization’s culture and how topics like cultural considerations or the transgender movement affects us as command teams.”

Military commanders and staff are embracing DEI in order to meet the demand to stay ready and relevant. For The Adjutant General of Colorado U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Laura Clellan, DEI is a leadership priority as it is for the Secretary of Defense, the Service Chiefs, and the Governor of Colorado.  That’s because DEI is a strategic imperative and is critical to mission readiness and accomplishment since DEI engages the National Guard’s greatest asset: its people.

In her commitment to a sustainable DEI strategy, TAG hired a full-time Title 5 civilian rather than a military service member, to fill the role of chief diversity officer. 

Through her work as the CDO, Duffy said she wants Airmen, Soldiers, and the civilian workforce to know that they matter and are important to the mission.    

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion harness the collective capabilities, visions, ideas, human will-to-do, dreams, skill sets, contributions, and all those dynamics that makes us a pillar and cultural force of evolutionary positivism,” Sanders said. “This organization can survive without diversity, but it’s potential, effectiveness, and true success will not be met.”

In 2019 the Association of Employee Resource Groups and Diversity Councils named the National Guard Bureau one of the top 25 national organizations when it comes to diversity and inclusion. According to World Population Review, during 2022, the state of Colorado is among the most diverse places to live in the U.S., ranked at number 17.

“We must resolve the myth(s) that DEI is a campaign to force minority, women, and LGBT rights, conveniences, needs, and opportunities on the rest of society,” Sanders said. “The myths are inflamed by ideologies that are averse to truth, harmony, and prosperity.”

“If we can become inclusive leaders and practice intentional inclusivity, belonging is that outcome, and I want them to know that I am their advocate for that,” she said. “I want to have those uncomfortable conversations, and I want to be there to help.”

Duffy said she believes that through education we can see the bigger picture.

“I have never lived outside of being a white woman.  I have never been anyone else so I have no idea what it’s like being a man, being a woman of color, being a Native American,” she said. “The picture that has been painted for us is what we consume.”

As people we are all different, and our experiences are, therefore, different. 

“My experience is not a universal experience; no one’s is,” Duffy said. “Going out of our comfort zone and doing mandatory training or maybe there is someone in your life that can bring perspective in, that’s where we merge. If we drop our ego and are ok with being uncomfortable and learn about other people’s experiences that’s when, hopefully, we can choose to have empathy.”

“It’s a societal norm to be comfortable where we live, with our friend groups, what information we are absorbing, what news channel we watch. Don’t try to find comfortability in an uncomfortable situation because you won’t find it.”

Understanding can be built by listening to others’ stories and empathizing with them.

"Consistent communications and advocacy to include relationship building will be key to position DEI as a defining dynamic in human relations; it is possible, and it is measurable,” Sanders said. “Action is education centric in this endeavor.  To be inclusive leaders, we need to engage the Soldiers, engage the Airmen, engage the staff, both civilian and military.”

“Empathy is a hard thing,” Duffy said. “It is the ability to feel, not just sympathize, just put yourself as much as you can in that person’s shoes and understand how it would feel to be in that situation.”

Another tool to building belonging is building self-awareness in everything we do.

“Build belonging by being intentional with your words and your actions.” Duffy said. “Ask yourself: ‘What tiny acts of exclusion am I doing?’ Be responsible for who and what you are now.”

According to Sanders, DEI is not only possible as a sustaining dynamic of human relations, it is a reality.

“People tend to engage DEI when it comes to their best interest, desires and intents; it’s human nature, and it’s nothing new,” he said.  “The challenge of DEI is when one must consider it when it comes to others.”

Duffy said that we are only in control of our own actions; therefore, we want to be intentionally inclusive. 

“Much of DEI is about terminology; it’s about the language that we are using,” she said. “You can’t go wrong if you are choosing to be respectful.”

The DOD’s Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is an organization aligned under the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) that develops and executes diversity management and equal opportunity policies and programs affecting Active Duty and Reserve component military personnel, and DOD civilian employees.

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