Coast Guard taking a fresh approach to boost diversity, inclusion

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Citing the need to boost inclusivity, the Coast Guard recently released a diversity and inclusion plan for now to 2023. In announcing it, Commandant Karl Schulz said the Coast Guard was already establishing the conditions for diversity and inclusion to occur. With what’s going on, the chief of the Coast Guard’s office of diversity and inclusion, Miguel Aviles, joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mr. Aviles, good to have you on.

Miguel Aviles: Good morning Tom. So happy to be with you and your audience. Looking forward to a great conversation.

Tom Temin: Since 2019, a lot has happened in the social and economic and racial front in the United States. So has the Coast Guard updated something that it issued earlier or tell us about the timing of this?

Miguel Aviles: Absolutely. So diversity and inclusion has always been a priority for the Coast Guard, and we have been working for the last couple of months in developing a comprehensive and holistic diversity and inclusion action plan that is not built in an office, but is built in an organization. So we took the necessary time to cooperate, to collaborate with stakeholders from across the entire organization to work on a plan that represented the total workforce. The surprise that we all received was the racial awakening that we are experiencing as a nation. So the good thing is that that didn’t take us by surprise. We had a plan that we were working for months, it just connected to what was going on. So we were positioned to clearly communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion, which we have done for years. But most importantly, we were able to communicate that with a set of actions and measures and accountability mechanisms that will allow us to execute the plan successfully.

Tom Temin: And I want to ask about some of those plans and measures, but I guess it’s fair to say that because of the awakening that you mentioned, and because the Coast Guard had these plans in place prior, then you were maybe ahead of the game relative to other organizations who kind of felt like, gosh we better get in on this,

Miguel Aviles: Tom, we want to be intentional and that’s why we have spent quality time. As we were building this plan, we wanted to first develop workforce D&I accument, which is the education of diversity and inclusion across the entire organization. But then we also needed to have goals and actions to strengthen leadership D&I, awareness and accountability. And then the third section of the plan is where we bring the entire organization to build and maintaining an inclusive workforce. What we have seen right now is that before there was a lot of fear towards some of these topics about systemic racism, white privilege and other important topics, but people are not comfortable talking. Now the nation is shifting towards having those conversations. So in the Coast Guard, we have seen people jumping into courageous conversations, having crucial exchanges about the experience that different people have in the organization and how the solution is within all of ourselves, all of us in the organization. And that’s what this plan brings to the table that we are taking diversity and inclusion in our hands collectively.

Tom Temin: And you earlier mentioned that there are specific goals in the plan. What are some of the top ones?

Miguel Aviles: One of the top goals is to set a foundation, a knowlage foundation. The diversity and inclusion action plan is a three-year multi-million dollar initiative. And I mentioned that the three phases that we have, but some of the initiatives that we are deploying is the first ever diversity and inclusion education and awareness program, where we are going to train 125 change agents that will be located across the organization. And these change agents will serve as diversity and inclusion advocates, as facilitators, and most importantly, as coaches. We have initiatives and actions towards improving the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in our organization. We also have a learning strategy being implemented. But then we also have a URM (Under Represented Minorities) study that we are deploying as well. So that study will analyze the recruitment and retention barriers of underrepresented groups. That’s a two year long study that we commissioned in 2019. So that’s just a few examples of a grand total of 36 actions and 11 measures of success that the plan contains.

Tom Temin: You mentioned 125 change agents. It’s important that when these change agents deploy throughout the Coast Guard, that there is receptivity to them on the part of the people that we’ll be advocating to. So how do you make sure that happens so that they just don’t talk against the hull of a ship?

Miguel Aviles: Tom, one of the biggest biggest mistakes in diversity and inclusion is that often we send people to a one day training or sometimes a 30 minute training and expect them to be D&I experts or to know D&I. We know here in the Coast Guard that this is a journey, that it will take time. So these particular education program is not a one day or two days, it’s a six month developmental process. And we are equipping the change agents to use what I call cognitive jujitsu, which is the ability to have conversations with people that have different points of views. And you come into the same place and through the power of questions, you can drive behavioral change in the organization. So we are prepping the change agents to practice, to be comfortable having these conversations, to have the education before we throw them to the field. But I will say this, I strongly believe our organization is ready. It’s ready to have this conversation because our commandant is leading from the front. I have been in government for almost 15 years Tom. Started as a GS-4 diversity recruiter in Puerto Rico and I have experienced diversity and inclusion in several organizations and I am impressed on how our commandant is leading diversity inclusion as one of his top priorities.

Tom Temin: Sure. And just a detail about these change agents, are they uniformed and will they be on some of the floating vessels, as well as the the shore locations?

Miguel Aviles: Change agents will be across their organization. We have change agents in every district, and what is different about these programs is that is a total workforce program. So we not only have active duty enlisted and officers, we also have civilians. We also have reservists and auxiliries. So we have members from all workforces in the Coast Guard represented. And that’s also very different in this action plan because if you pay attention to the pictures we wanted to show inclusivity from the beginning, and pictures and images sent a very clear message. So you will see in the action plan that you have people in uniform, but then you also you also have people like me, that we are civilians.

Tom Temin: Got it. And you mentioned recruitment, because in order to have long term diversity, you have to have people coming in in the first place that are diverse. So what will some of the recruitment efforts be to make sure that the workforce reflects the way that you want it to be?

Miguel Aviles: So to remain the world’s best Coast Guard, we know we must be seen as an employer of choice and competition is fierce. We call that the talent war out there. Everyone is looking for talent, particularly for underrepresented talent. So we are taking decisive actions to be intentional when we recruit. We know that our talent pool is shrinking, so it’s more difficult to to find that talent so the plan has specific goals towards recruitment and retention. So, one of the things that we’re working on is developing a comprehensive outreach strategy to recruit a more diverse workforce, and that includes the study that I mentioned earlier. That study will help us to better understand our workforce and identify actions the Coast Guard can take to increase the recruitment and retention of minorities. And Tom, I will say this, as I mentioned at the beginning, I started my career so the university recruiter, and there is diverse talent available out there. Often the problem is the lack of awareness about opportunities. And I have dedicated my entire career to increase awareness of opportunities to groups that have been historically underrepresented. And often intention and focus bring results. So that’s what we’re aiming for.

Tom Temin: Miguel Aviles is the chief of diversity and inclusion at the Coast Guard. Thanks so much for joining me.

Miguel Aviles: Absolutely Tom. It’s a pleasure and we’re looking forward to achieve progress because in order to be the best Coast Guard we have to be the most inclusive and diverse Coast Guard.