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Diversity inclusion creates winning organizations

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur
  • 124th Fighter Wing

The Idaho National Guard hosted a Joint Diversity Executive Council conference on April 30 in Boise to address the importance of diversity inclusion in the workplace. Key military and civil leaders from 14 states, one territory and the National Guard discussed solutions for stopping discrimination in their organizations.

“An organization with diverse experiences and cultures will be a winning organization,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Nolan, Idaho’s assistant adjutant general-Air. “It’s easy for an organization to grow stale when we continue the notion that everyone is and should be thinking and acting in the same way. The whole point to diversity inclusion is for us to realize that we, as an organization, already have an internal bias, but we have to open our minds to people we may see as different from us.”

The JDEC, made up of seven regions representing each state and territory, advises the chief of the NGB and adjutant generals on diversity and inclusion matters. Regions six and seven attended the two-day conference, which included Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and the territory of Guam.

Day one began with a diverse panel of Idaho National Guard Soldiers and Airmen sharing the experiences that have impacted their lives or caused roadblocks in their careers.

“I moved to Idaho from down south, where I did witness discrimination, but being here has been eye-opening and breath-taking,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Henry, from the 2nd of the 116th Cavalry Regiment. “Here, I am just like everyone else, I don’t get treated differently. I don’t get looked at differently because of the color of my skin.”

Sgt. 1st Class Melanie Galletti, from the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, spoke about a time in her life she felt singled out due to her race and gender in her former unit.

“While in active duty in 2000 my battalion commander had me in his office for an in-briefing,” said Galletti. “I distinctively remember him saying to me ‘now I know about you Latino females’ and then after that I didn’t hear anything else he said, because those were the only words I could focus on. I joined the Idaho Army National Guard in 2010. Have I experienced any type of discrimination here? Absolutely not, not as a female and not as a Latino female.”

In 2017 Galletti became Idaho National Guard’s first female infantry Soldier.

Throughout the conference, several themes were highlighted to help eliminate discrimination, such as emphasizing diversity and inclusion, exercising open-mindedness, embracing change and being receptive to newer generations coming through while controlling hostile work environments.

“We have to continue to train our brains and it’s not just a nationality, religion or gender issue, it’s every form of discrimination,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Becky Burkhart, Idaho’s first female command sergeant major. “We have to remember that the person next to you in the foxhole - it doesn’t matter who they are - as long as they have your back. It is up to leaders to continue this concept. Here in Idaho, I have never been treated poorly for being married to another female Soldier.”

Burkhart has been married to her wife for more than four years.

“We have to accept that some derogatory things are going to happen, people are going to say inappropriate things and it’s how we handle it that matters,” said Galletti. “We need to close the doors for the opportunity of harassment to continue, by keeping an open mind and respecting our peers. If we are going to do this, if we are going to diversify, let’s just do it all the way through in every single aspect.”

Several leaders from local businesses took part by speaking during the two-day conference. They shared their insight on diversity inclusion programs and their efforts on overcoming discrimination issues. Participants in the event were Zion’s Bank, Boise State University, College of Idaho Cultural Experience and Insight, the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy, the Ballet Folkloric Mexico Lindo dancers, Idaho State Police, Boise Fire Department, the Basque Center and the Idaho State Museum forum on Native American and Indian tribes.

“Diversity and inclusion starts with our youth,” said Trevor Sparrow, director of the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy. “Programs like the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy start the process of opening the minds of youth to diversity and inclusion.”

Senior Airman Tanner Morales, a graduate from the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy and an aerospace propulsion technician in the 124th Maintenance Squadron, spoke about what he has learned after graduating from the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy.

“I don’t see people as what I am physically seeing standing in front of me, but I see them as what I can learn about them and learn from them,” said Morales. “I like the fact that I can fall back on someone that thinks differently than me. If I have a problem that needs to be solved, I may not be approaching it the right way, and having a person that has a different background than me may have a different way on how they articulate their thoughts. That to me is very valuable.”

Improving diversity inclusion is a top priority for Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, adjutant general of Idaho and commander, Idaho National Guard.

“We need to open our thoughts, our minds and our views on diversity,” he said. “We need to recognize the strengths it can bring in directly contributing to our greatness as an organization. I continue to embrace and appreciate every opportunity to strengthen our understanding of diversity, with the hopes of improving our organization here in Idaho.”