Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oregon airmen become Champions of Diversity: "Mission first, people always"

"Better to be prepared and not get an opportunity than to have an opportunity and not be prepared." -- Diversity Champions, 2009


Thirty Oregon airmen became part of a high-performance team in a three-day course in north Portland, March 16-18.

The Diversity Champions course, taught by instructors Michael Nila, Chisa Golbourne, and Robin Scdoris-Hester, covered the standard issues all organizations face regarding diversity and equal opportunity.

The men and women of the Oregon Air National Guard participated in team-building exercises, explored their own biases, and discussed typical stereotypes fostered by society and the media.

Over three days, the curriculum ranged from the mantra of "Laser Focus" -- which challenged participants to employ active listening techniques, and to avoid distractions during the exercises -- to developing relationships with a coach both during the course and after graduation.

Among several presentations, students were also treated to Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech in its entirety, and a documentary about Jane Elliot, an internationally-renowned teacher, diversity lecturer, and recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education, who, in 1960s, devised the controversial and startling, "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise.

The instructors cited accomplishments of several notable champions in their respective sports, including U.S. Women's Soccer star, Mia Hamm, and seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, who said, "... pain is temporary, quitting is permanent."

Nila also invoked the memories of diversity pioneers such as Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi and Rosa Parks, who, at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, made history by refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man.

"Just think if she had decided not to take a stand," one of the instructors told the class.

Most important were the nine "Cornerstones of Diversity", a list which was referred to throughout the three-day course. Several of the exercises found their roots in the cornerstones;

1. Diversity is about inclusion and diversity.
2. Success is the ability to work together.
3. The most important issue is human dignity and total quality respect.
4. Prejudice is eliminated by developing high performance teams.
5. True diversity is ensuring diversity of thought at all levels of the organization.
6. Everyone adds talent and value, and must be developed, offering full opportunity to achieve.
7. Diversity solutions must be situation specific.
8. Diversity is a philosophy, and is everyone's responsibility.
9. You do not have to be one of to stand with.

For those who think diversity is a warm and fuzzy box-checking exercise, think again, say organizers. The issues the airmen worked through were emotionally-charged, and highly relevant to challenges facing today's workforce. In the words of one of the participants, "I earned this."

Furthermore, using experiential learning, the course instructors compelled participants to confront long-standing stereotypes and biases, and challenged them to not just overcome, but to "raise the bar" higher, and strive to become effective leaders, teachers, and mentors, says Nila.

"Good intentions are not a substitute for good behavior," Nila said, pointing toward five primary reasons for teaching diversity in the workplace.

One, it's the right thing to do, he said. It's also the law of the land, he added, citing several discrimination and equal opportunity lawsuits at companies such as Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company, Home Depot and Texaco. Many people remember the lawsuits loged against Mitsubishi Corp., and Denny's, which in 2005, thrust issues of diversity and equality into the highest levels of our nation's judicial system.

Other reasons have to do with changing demographics in all organizations, and creating a safe and productive work environment, Nila said.

"Finally, it's important to the business mission," Nila added.

These issues are so important to military leadership that the course has been endorsed by Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, director of the Air National Guard. According to Nila, who is the lead instructor for the course, the curriculum will be taught again in Klamath Falls later this year.

The support from the National Guard Bureau has not gone unnoticed by Oregon Air Guard leadership. The student roster included several high-ranking and influential personnel from the Portland Air Guard Base, both enlisted and officer.

On Monday, the commander of the Oregon Air National Guard attended the classroom discussion, but could not attend the other two days because of a scheduling conflict.

"This is a great course," said Brig. Gen. Bruce W. Prunk toward the end of the first day. "I'd like to attend the entire course when it's offered in Klamath Falls."


Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Social Media Manager, Oregon Military Department

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