Embracing Diversity – Part 1

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BLUF – “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey

At the beginning of my command tour, I slowly realized a pivotal and inevitable moment was on the horizon. This moment would need to be brought to the forefront so that the entire team was aware of the changing landscape and I wanted to promote open dialogue so we could all understand how this change could be embraced, not feared. Months went by and the moment didn’t materialize until two weeks ago. I checked with our Commander’s Support Staff to verify the data and doubled-back with an NCO that was closest to the situation and confirmed our suspicions. The moment was upon us:

We have our first Airman that was born in the year 2000.

As more and more Airmen signed in to the unit and I talked with them at our squadron Newcomer’s Briefing, the innocence and youth on their faces signaled to me that I needed to readjust my perspective in the workplace. My previous job was on Pacific Air Forces headquarters staff, which is filled with tons of Senior NCOs and Field Grade Officers, aka old people. To look at and converse with young men and women fresh out of high school took some adjusting to. One of the adjustments is that I told them they aren’t allowed to say “back in the day…”, because for them that probably meant last Wednesday. That phrase is reserved for us that were born in the Nineteen Hundreds. Anyways, the adjustment didn’t take that long for me, probably because I have a teenage daughter and almost teenage son and have very similar interactions with them. My conversations are mostly based on trying to understand their interests and not judging them (though they are always quick to say “don’t judge me” in a very defensive yet unnecessary posture). I share the world they operate in, so I need to take the time to understand how they view the world and the perspective of “old people” closest to them, also known as Mom and Dad. For our Airmen, they have probably seen a small handful of Field Grade Officers in their short career, so it is my responsibility to make a good first impression on them. I take that responsibility seriously, but don’t take myself seriously. So when this unicorn of an Airmen finally made an appearance, I had to celebrate the moment.

Airman First Class Howard was born in February in the year 2000. She is Jamaican but calls North Carolina home. She works in our Knowledge Management shop and has never been to Alaska prior to her assignment. A1C Howard is not shy about public speaking, which came in handy when I brought her on stage during Commander’s Call and interviewed her. I did have a brief chat with her prior to bringing her on stage, so she wasn’t completely off guard. I introduced her to the squadron and shared how excited I was that the moment finally happened (I was talking about it at the beginning of the year). After the quick introduction, I quizzed her on the following ten questions:

  1. What is the name of the computer panic that correlates to your birth year?
  2. Name a Bundy from the show “Married…with Children.”
  3. The Migos, 21 Savage, and Desiigner are known artists for what style of rap?
  4. Fill in the blank: Light Speed, Ridiculous Speed, ________ Speed
  5. Tell me the phone number of your Mom or Dad.
  6. Was Top Gun an Air Force or Navy movie?
  7. Finish this song lyric: “Kiki…”
  8. What is the name of the girl group Beyonce started in?
  9. What does Jon Snow know?
  10. Name three characters from Street Fighter 2.

A1C Howard answered two questions correctly (7 and 8). Some of her peers in the audience knew more of the answers, and the older people in the crowd obviously knew more. I thanked her for participation and she took her seat to applause. The point of the moment was to share that generational diversity was upon us and we should embrace it and seek to understand one another. I challenged the younger generations to develop their own quiz and test their Senior NCOs and officers to see if they know random pieces of pop culture about their generations. Taking the attitude of “this younger generation is [insert negative comment]” or “these old dudes just don’t get us” doesn’t help bring a team together. I’m not saying you need to take on similar interests of generations that differ from yours, but being able to have open dialogue is important to develop a culture that respects each other’s opinions even if they differ from ours. I stand by my opinion that 90s hip hop is the best generation of the genre, yet I don’t try to and convert anyone to my opinion nor do I throw shade on what’s playing on Soundcloud now. I try to keep pace with the times so I can share a common dialogue with the younger generations in my unit. The more we can have comfortable conversations with low threat topics, the easier it can be to transition to harder conversations of work or personal issues. Creating a positive environment for the multiple generations in the workplace is the responsibility of all, but the momentum can be started by those who have been around the longest and lead by example.

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