Wisconsin National Guard takes part in virtual conference on diversity

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Expanding the scope of diversity beyond race and gender can unlock untapped potential in the Wisconsin National Guard.

This is the message senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders are emphasizing to their troops following the first National Guard Bureau Virtual Diversity Conference - held completely online Jan. 18.

"Diversity is a core value of the Wisconsin National Guard and it directly affects readiness. It extends far beyond race and gender - it is about faith in the future and breaking free of stereotypical thinking," said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin. "This diversity conference sent a powerful message - our national leadership shares our core values and, by conducting it virtually, we saved significant resources by not having to travel. An excellent event."

1st Lt. Ron Adams, the Wisconsin National Guard diversity officer, said that the "melting pot" concept can suppress diversity and stifle ideas in favor of assimilation.

"Valuing diversity is creating a workplace that respects differences, recognizes unique contributions and maximizes potential," Adams said. "Diversity for the Wisconsin National Guard includes a long-term vision of a workforce that generally reflects the population demographics of the state."
Helping develop that vision is the Wisconsin National Guard's Joint Diversity Council, made up of senior and junior officers and enlisted members reflecting every unit of the Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard.

"In today's environment, leaders at all levels are expected to get the best out of their team," said Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard and co-chair of the Joint Diversity Council. "Understanding the value that each team member brings to the fight is imperative to continued success for our organization.

"How leadership views diversity, so goes the organization," Anderson continued, noting that there is value in different backgrounds, experiences and thought processes. "These collective backgrounds give you more variety of input when addressing an issue."

Brig. Gen. John McCoy, commander of the Wisconsin Air National Guard and co-chair of the Joint Diversity Council, said that diversity cannot be a separate program.

"It is simply who we are," McCoy said. "We are much more effective when we value all of our members. Different perspectives and experiences, when embraced, can drive outstanding results."

Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the goal of the virtual conference was to present to all Citizen-Soldiers, - Airmen and civilians the vision and strategy of Guard leadership in the area of diversity management - and the use of a virtual conference allowed that message to reach a larger audience.

"As your chief of the National Guard Bureau, it is my role to work with your adjutants general to ensure that the National Guard remains a mission-ready force," he said. "Effective diversity management is essential to military readiness and mission accomplishment."

McKinley said steps to improve diversity management throughout the Guard have been taken, one of them being the establishment of the National Guard Bureau Joint Diversity Executive Council.

"The goal of this council," he said, "is to identify and adopt the best practices for recruiting, retaining and developing a very diverse workforce - and sustaining a climate of equality in the National Guard."

"The council adapts these practices from various resources to recommendations that are appropriate to the National Guard's military and civilian structure," said Phyllis Brantley, chief of National Guard diversity and special-emphasis programs.

Some of the accomplishments of the council thus far include a comprehensive diversity policy, a leaders' guide on diversity, resources for state-level Joint Diversity Councils and training and mentoring for state-level JSDCs from NGB staff.

"We as an organization have made significant progress, but much more is needed - especially in our military leadership diversity," McKinley said. "It's a problem with cyclical effects. Through the work of our adjutants general and other National Guard leaders, I am confident that we can move toward a future workforce that more clearly reflects the population of our great nation."

McKinley said accessing and adopting some programs from the civilian sector is one way that the Guard could use to achieve its diversity goals.

"Another step to reaching our goals on diversity and inclusion in the Guard is for each state, territory and the District of Columbia to establish state joint diversity councils and assign a liaison to work with the NGB Joint Diversity Executive Council," he said.

Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall, the National Guard's senior enlisted leader, said in order for the organization to remain relevant, "we must understand diversity and how to strategically capitalize on the strength of our Soldiers, Airmen and civilians."

"Diversity must be recognized as an enhancement of the character of our organization," McKinley said. "Change is never easy, but I remain confident in the Soldiers, Airmen and civilians of the National Guard to get this work done."

Sgt. Darron Salzer of the National Guard Bureau contributed to this report.

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