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News | May 26, 2022

Inclusion unlocks agency’s collective strength

By Thomas Perry DCMA Public Affairs

Defense Contract Management Agency invigorated its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to align with Defense Department initiatives to drive innovation and ensure mission accomplishment.

Diversity, equity and inclusion in the military are necessities for the United States, said Bishop Garrison, the senior advisor to the secretary of defense for human capital and diversity, equity and inclusion in a February DOD News article.

“It’s not just something that has to be done because of some type of cultural ideology or culture wars that are going on — that’s not the case at all. It is, again, not diversity for diversity’s sake,” said Garrison.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the first African-American secretary of defense, hopes to improve diversity and inclusiveness throughout the department. His hope extends from the lower ranks to senior leaders — from uniformed personnel to civilian employees.

“I want to make sure I create the conditions that young people out there … can really relate to and say, ‘I can be him, or I can be very successful in the Department of Defense.’ Diversity is really important to us. The … military has led the way in a lot of cases. With respect to diversity, I’ve got to make sure that we continue to make strides. And I equate diversity with being invited to the dance. Inclusion is actually being asked to dance.”

Heather Roberts-Wrenn, DCMA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program manager, defined inclusion as “the act of creating an environment in which every person feels welcomed, respected, valued, supported and safe. Inclusive environments celebrate differences and value the unique perspectives, thoughts, ideas, knowledge, skills and abilities we bring to the organization.”

Bringing in more talented infantry personnel or military intelligence analysts is the goal for any program, said Garrison. When the military gets recruits from diverse backgrounds, there will be more innovative thought and more innovative solutions to incredibly complex and complicated problems that are facing the national security apparatus today.

As the department’s primary contract management force, DCMA globally supports that apparatus. The agency envisions itself as a team of trusted professionals delivering value to warfighters throughout the acquisition lifecycle. As warfighters transition back to the civilian world, the support agency’s workforce, about half of which are veterans, often reflects demographic shifts within the services.

Regardless of veteran status however, the agency seeks the best and brightest to deliver quality products and provide relevant acquisition insight to support DOD affordability and readiness.

“Every employee, regardless of culture, race, nationality, knowledge, views, beliefs and perceptions, contributes to making DCMA a great place to work,” said Kathy Butera, acting executive director of Total Force. “Diversity and Inclusion has been instrumental in empowering our workforce to be creative and innovative in support of our very complex mission. We have and we will continue to do great things for DCMA and the Department of Defense with our talented and diverse workforce.”

Inclusion’s Impact
When leaders embrace diversity and inclusion, their employee’s quality of life improves at work and home.

“With an inclusive environment, employees will experience more frequent and enhanced collaboration with colleagues, hear more diverse perspectives and ideas that can be built off of collectively, and benefit from improved and more authentic relationships with one another,” said Roberts-Wrenn. “Learning and understanding of DEI topics enhances an individual’s cultural competence both in the work environment and in their own personal lives when they interact with people from different identity groups, backgrounds and perspectives. My hope is that it also makes them more critical of the media they consume and the unconscious messages they are seeing or having reinforced.”

Non-inclusive command environments, however, can isolate and divide to create pockets of success and failure. This situation can create less-than-ideal workplace cohesion and mission accomplishment. In DCMA’s case, it would negatively impact warfighter support.

“When an environment isn’t inclusive it can be anywhere from a place where you’re not tapping into the best ideas and talents to a toxic environment,” said Roberts-Wrenn. “Without fostering inclusion, folks who think differently from their leaders or the majority won’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas, questions and concerns. You’ll lose out on their valuable contributions. Without inclusion, you may be encouraging an environment that tolerates and perpetuates corrosive behaviors such as racial or sexual harassment or discrimination and harassment based on other characteristics. In those kinds of environments, folks cannot focus on the mission because they have to put so much of their mental and emotional energy into dealing with the negative environment and experiences. Bottom line: the mission suffers when the environment isn’t inclusive.”

Training Promotes Understanding
Roberts-Wrenn provides monthly training to new leaders to encourage the former and prevent the development of the latter. She joined DCMA in October 2021. While she continues the process of making the agency DEI program her own by creating user-friendly websites, enhancing user engagement and aligning the DCMA DEI strategic plan with the federal and DOD Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility plan, she conducted a contract management office training event with DCMA United Kingdom.

Air Force Lt. Col. Oscar Palomino, DCMA UK commander, and his team spearheaded the effort, asking the Total Force Directorate to host the event “to promote understanding of inclusion, diversity and the benefits of understanding this process; and further create an environment beneficial to all DCMA UK members.”

As a DCMA International member, DCMA UK maintains 65 personnel at three England locations: Royal Air Force Wyton, Bristol and Samlesbury. The training was the first in-person/virtual training held since the COVID-19 global pandemic began. It was open to all team members, which garners particular importance as the CMO experiences a 33% turnover ratio of personnel due to rotational assignment standards.

“DCMA UK is committed to DEI efforts to ensure a healthy culture of dignity and respect,” said Palomino. “Ensuring this culture and environment are established and continued remains a priority for the DCMA UK command. We are unique in that our team (comes from various continental US) CMOs with distinctive perspectives, experiences and principles; additionally, DCMA UK members bring their families to DCMA International. Expanding inclusion, diversity and equity knowledge allows DCMA UK members to gain further understanding on unconscious bias in an international environment.”

Training Highlights
According to Roberts-Wrenn, the training topics included:
• The meaning of the terms: diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging
• The difference between equality and equity, two terms that are often used interchangeably, but have different meanings
• Unconscious bias, where it comes from and how we all learn and have biases based on our lived experiences, the communities we participate in and the media we consume, and how to discover some of your own unconscious biases in order to consciously counteract them
• How to foster an inclusive environment and the things each employee can do to contribute to an inclusive culture within DCMA
• Breakout room discussions where participants talked about inclusion in their own environment
• Takeaways and personal action plans so team members can hold themselves accountable for future actions

“Training such as this provides a baseline understanding of the topics in DEI and common language,” said Roberts-Wrenn, who promoted in-person participation while supporting the command from a CONUS location. “It will hopefully influence folks to discover some of their own unconscious biases and reflect on how they counteract them. By giving folks the blueprints to building an inclusive workplace, they can take the relevant advice and incorporate them into their daily behaviors. Through this common language and understanding and changed mindsets and behaviors, we can hopefully become the most inclusive agency in the federal government and attract and retain top talent. When people feel included, that means they feel respected and valued for their unique contributions, and when they feel that way, they stay engaged with the work and organization.”

DCMA UK leadership credited Roberts-Wrenn’s training techniques, fundamentals and expertise as instrumental to a highly successful and educative training session.

During the event, Palomino and his deputy sat at satellite offices to encourage inclusivity, participation, free expression of ideas and communication. Several team members discussed past and recent challenges regarding non-inclusiveness, diversity, inclusion and perception.

“Some folks discussed the inability for some of the remote offices to participate in team-building work activities unless they took time off to travel to the main office,” said Roberts-Wrenn. “Others discussed how the pandemic created new groups of vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals and how we ensure we’re including everyone. Others shared their personal takeaways about ensuring they stay open to how others perceive things and take their perspectives into account.”

After two years of pandemic-life, these last discussion points could come from any of the agency’s global locations. They can be discussed to expand understanding and forge team building or ignored to fester on a platform of ignorance and assumption.

DCMA and DOD are choosing to discuss diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

“DEI is important to DCMA and DOD because it’s the right thing to do, it enhances our success and that of our employees, and it helps us attract and retain talented individuals of all backgrounds, experiences, abilities, and perspectives.”

The goal is not to win a culture war, as Garrison said, but to maintain battlefield superiority and win actual wars.