Air Force trying to diversify its largely white, male pilot corps with new strategy

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The Air Force’s pilot corps is 93.6% male and 87.6% white; those demographics are grossly different from the 21% of women and at least 25% of the other races that make up the active-duty force.

The service recently decided it’s time to focus on diversity and inclusion within the pilot corps, and it’s released a new strategy to increase the number of women and minorities serving as manned and unmanned aircraft pilots, air battle managers and combat systems officers.

“Diversity is a warfighting imperative. Diversity brings us the best talent, the best skill, it gives us the best potential, it gives us the ability to look at the problem from multiple solutions,” Lt. Col. Edemumo Oboho, strategist at Air Education and Training Command told Federal News Network. “It helps us avoid our blind spots. The innovative potential with diversity is huge.”

The strategy focuses on three objectives: Attracting talent from diverse backgrounds, developing and retaining aircrews by harnessing diversity and optimizing diversity through data.

“We call this the holistic approach to solving rated diversity,” Oboho said. “The three goals that we start with are the overarching umbrella for race, diversity and inclusion. We want to make sure we attract and recruit the best talent within that propensity from those diverse backgrounds.”

To attract diverse talent, the Air Force is starting with the youth. It wants to increase awareness of rated occupations through campaigns and community influencers. The goal is to increase the number of underrepresented group youth events and engagements 300% by 2025, and increase the number of Air Force JROTC Flight Academy slots to 500 by 2023.

College recruitment will also be a major aspect. The Air Force wants to increase its engagements at universities serving higher populations of underrepresented groups by 30% annually through 2025.

To develop and retain airmen, the Air Force will focus on mentorship of minority and female candidates in the training pipeline. The Air Force will start a mentorship program targeting, but not restricted to, underrepresented groups, in hopes that applicants will better represent the qualified American population by 2025.

The Air Force also wants to raise and maintain the retention rate of underrepresented rated officers to within 2% of white males by 2030.

The authors of the strategy state that in order to do that the service will “Allow assignment flexibility to help promote programs providing continued service and mentorship for minority and female rated officers. Encourage senior leaders to support rated officer participation in affinity group and professional events to promote career-broadening and networking. Develop and implement strategic coaching and mentoring programs across continuum of service.”

Finally, the Air Force will establish data-driven approaches to provide senior leaders with relevant diversity and inclusion data for the rated corps.

The Air Force will create a consolidated database by 2022 to track demographics of rated candidates across all selection methods.

Since the death of George Floyd, the Air Force has been reexamining its relationship with race and diversity. The service released a report on racial disparity in its ranks last December.

That report showed widespread disparities, especially with Black airmen’s likelihood of facing administrative and criminal punishments compared to white airmen.

The Air Force is now conducting a second review to get more detailed data.

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