Department of the Air Force releases reports on Racial Disparity Review update, second disparity review

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The Department of the Air Force released a progress update on the Inspector General Independent Racial Disparity Review and a second disparity review report Sept. 9. The progress update report is available for download here and the second report findings can be downloaded here.


The first Independent Racial Disparity Review, released in December 2020, identified and validated 16 specific disparities for Black/African American Airmen and Guardians. Since that time, stakeholders have been conducting root-cause analysis and have begun implementing corrective measures.

The progress update, compiled by the IG, provides detailed updates on the actions taken by several organizations within the Department of the Air Force to address the disparities identified in the racial disparity review. Some examples include:

Drafted the DAF Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Strategy
Required an action plan on all Defense Equal Opportunity Climate Survey climate factors relating to Diversity, Inclusion or Equal Opportunity scoring an “improvement needed” (below 49% of favorable responses)
Established Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices with chief diversity inclusion officers across MAJCOMs
Initiated the Command Justice Climate Tool to track adverse administrative actions with regard to age, rank, gender, and race of those issuing and receiving counseling, admonishments, and reprimands
Revised policy for diverse slates for key military positions
Updated command authority to inspect and remove flags affecting good order and discipline
Added new reporting requirements for Civilian Hiring Panels to govern filling positions at the GS-14 and GS-15 levels

Other changes underway to improve diversity include:

Improving diversity in rated career field accessions as one step toward making a long-term impact on senior leader diversity. The analysis showed wing commander demographics are a lagging indicator for the entire talent management and development system.
Increasing recruiter awareness and appreciation for diversity
Expanding partnerships with minority-serving institutions
Developing and publishing a Diversity and Outreach Recruitment Strategy for senior-level positions.

Among the report’s recommendations is the need for unconscious bias mitigation training for panels, commanders, selection boards, and senior raters. Analysis shows even when all potential root-causes of the disparities are identified and mitigated, there are some outcomes that do not trace directly to an identifiable barrier. In these instances, unintentional and unconscious bias is a possible factor in some outcomes. Therefore evidence-based training is recommended to ensure awareness and help mitigate potential contributing factors.

“The ultimate measure of success is meaningful results,” said Secretary of the Air Force
Frank Kendall. “The IG’s update provides valuable insight into what we’ve accomplished and what remains to be done. A key part of our ‘One Team, One Fight’ mantra is about ensuring our Airmen, Guardians, and Department of the Air Force civilians serve in an inclusive environment where they can achieve their full potential. This is a top priority for me and leaders across the Air and Space Forces.” 


The second IG disparity review, directed on Feb. 17, focused on gender and ethnicity, to include Hispanics, Latinos, Asians, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders. The second review also referenced and compared data from the prior report on racial disparity involving Black/African American Airmen and Guardians.

The second review is an extension of the DAF’s initial racial disparity review and addressed disparities in discipline, investigation and personnel opportunities for these groups. Anonymous surveys went out to Airmen and Guardians in April. The review included targeted interviews and small-group surveys. Additionally, a comprehensive review of available data from other sources was conducted to develop the review.

“These reviews are important to help us identify and address racial, gender and ethnic disparity issues that negatively affect our Airmen and Guardians,” said Air Force Chief of Staff
Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. “We must continue to listen to our people, understand what they are experiencing, and receive their feedback as we take steps to improve.” 

While the second IG review identified additional disparities within the Air and Space Forces, the root cause analyses for these disparities has only just begun. As the report explains, identification of disparity does not necessarily equate to racial, ethnic or gender bias, racism, or sexism. Root cause analysis is being led by the process owners within the DAF headquarters in the Pentagon and Air Education and Training Command at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, which manages recruiting, accessions, and certain training.

“Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to readiness and mission success,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond. “We all come from different backgrounds, different cultures, and subscribe to a variety of different beliefs. It is these differences that make us a highly effective force. They underwrite our ability to be agile and innovative, to compete, deter and win. Inclusion is the action that draws the best from every one of our members, providing advantage for our nation as one, ready and successful team.” 

In the second review, IG personnel analyzed existing information, such as military justice data dating back to 2012, and listened to Airmen and Guardians directly. They analyzed individual perspectives from a DAF-wide IG disparity survey that garnered more than 100,000 responses, plus almost 17,000 single-space pages of feedback from service members and civilians. They held 122 group discussions with officer, enlisted and civilian Airmen and Guardians from across all major commands and field commands; and conducted formal interviews with senior leaders and members of DAF Barrier Analysis Working Group teams, such as the Women’s Initiative Team and the Pacific Islander/Asian American Community Team. Finally, the IG team reexamined 21 past studies and reports involving race, ethnicity and gender in the military.


Among the groups examined, the second IG disparity review revealed racial, ethnic, and gender disparities, particularly in accessions, retention, opportunities, and to a relatively lesser extent, disciplinary actions. Additionally, based upon survey feedback and group discussions, racially and ethnically diverse and female service members indicated they face barriers and challenges others may not experience.

While the presence of a disparity alone is not evidence of racism, sexism, discrimination or disparate treatment, it presents a concern that requires more in-depth analysis and corrective action. The data identified in this review shows race, ethnicity, and gender are correlating factors, however, they do not indicate causality, and the review does not address why the disparities exist. This report’s primary focus was on identifying areas of disparity for further analysis.

Minorities and females are underrepresented in leadership positions, specifically at the senior leader level. Additionally, females and racial-ethnic minority groups were underrepresented in officer accessions, with the greatest disparity in operations career fields.

Views on disparity varied widely by group. Significantly, about half of all female respondents said maintaining work/life balance and taking care of family commitments adversely impact female Airmen and Guardians more than their male counterparts, while only 18% of male respondents shared this view. Moreover, 70% of female officers responded that these issues impacted females more than their male peers, a view shared by only 29% of male respondents.

One of every three female Airmen and Guardians and one of every four female civilians reported that they had experienced sexual harassment during their careers in the Department of the Air Force.

Anonymous feedback identified firsthand accounts of sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace directed toward females and a negative stigma associated with pregnancy and maternity leave. Additionally, some who experienced these actions reported they did not trust their chain of command to address these inappropriate behaviors and feared reprisal or retribution, or believed nothing would be done.

The review also found Airmen and Guardians of all races and ethnicities expressed concern that discriminatory and racist remarks directed towards their specific group are not appropriately addressed by their chain of command, thus decreasing the internal trust of their unit.

“These disparities and gaps in trust affect our operational readiness — we don’t have time or talent to lose,” said Gina Ortiz Jones, the Under Secretary of the Air Force. “We will actively work to rebuild that trust and ensure Department of the Air Force members, the ‘One Team’ our nation needs to protect our interests in air and space, can serve to their full potential.”