Written by Adm. Charles Ray
Improving inclusion and diversity are top priorities for our service. No one, regardless of rank, can tackle these challenges by themselves. We must all work to improve service culture together and carry our message to every corner of the Coast Guard.
This past Wednesday, I returned from the National Naval Officers Association Annual (NNOA) Conference. I benefit greatly from participating in NNOA events, and Wednesday was no exception. I had the opportunity to sit and talk with numerous people from a variety of services and backgrounds about diversity and inclusion. These interactions inspired me to share my thoughts with the rest of the service.
We are a better Coast Guard today because of pioneers like Dr. Olivia Hooker, Capt. Dorothy Stratton, and Capt. Richard Etheridge, but we still have work to do to make our service more representative of American society. To do that, we have to plant the seeds of diversity and opportunity as an operational imperative, which ultimately results in improved performance, decision-making quality and collaboration.
I grew up in the Jim Crow South and saw segregation firsthand. When I was a little boy, my friend went to church with me. When we walked into the service, the congregation could not stop staring disapprovingly. My friend was black. I cannot imagine how painful and demoralizing it must have been for that 11-year-old boy. Imagine how different that day could have been if our congregation had welcomed my friend. That searing experience remains with me today and fuels my commitment to a diverse and inclusive Coast Guard. Every single person in the Coast Guard has the power of inclusion, and they should exercise it every chance they get.
Diversity is representation. Inclusion is fostering belonging and opportunity. We must attract, retain, and inspire a diverse workforce. Every Coast Guard member – active duty, reserve, civilian, and auxiliary – must look into our ranks, find those who are different, and ensure they have the resources and opportunities they need to succeed. This varsity-level leadership creates an inclusive environment. Our frontline leaders are essential to the success of diversity and inclusion, and our service must invest in leaders who strive to improve our culture. Our core values are more than just words on a wall in Cape May or New London. Our core values require us to be leaders who are deeply committed to inclusion.
No one is perfect, and no one has this all figured out. We are products of our upbringing and respective communities, and as such, everyone suffers from hidden biases. To fight hidden bias, we must be inquisitive, ask questions, and engage people who are not like us. I encourage all Coast Guard men and women to grab a co-worker and attend an affinity group or diversity event to broaden their perspective. If you have ideas that could help create a more inclusive environment or improve our Service, work with your Leadership Diversity Advisory Council (LDAC) to make meaningful change at your unit or across the Coast Guard.
Please post your photos from affinity group or diversity events with the hashtag #CarryOurMessage or send them to me via direct message on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll share your photos as we work together to create a more diverse and inclusive Coast Guard and carry our message to all levels of our service.
We are duty bound to grow a diverse and inclusive Coast Guard. A service fueled by the best talent across gender, race, geography, religion, culture, age, and experience – all working together in selfless service of our great nation.