Diversity in Action: Coming to Terms
We all have opinions about what diversity means — or at least what it means to us. In general, our opinions, beliefs, and convictions shape what we’re willing to tolerate, accept, ignore, celebrate, or champion. Regardless of what diversity means to us personally, there are some industry terms associated with keywords designed to help us navigate and understand the evolving diversity conversation happening at a macro community level (our national consciousness) that trickles down to our micro community level (our personal sphere of influence).
We all know people different than ourselves, and even within our family pod, people may be more different than we think — or perhaps more different than we’re aware of right now.
Diversity makes our nation strong. Since Civil Air Patrol strives to reflect the diversity found in our communities, I want to use the column in this issue to talk about how diversity has changed — that is to say, evolved — since CAP’s earliest days, when diversity meant little more than race and gender.
CAP’s diversity program has evolved from informally integrated units to a formal program now called Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with board-level participation and guidance. Here’s what the terms mean.
Diversity is a composite of individual characteristics and abilities that are consistent with the CAP mission and core values and reflective of the communities we serve.
CAP diversity includes but is not limited to life experiences, socioeconomic status, cultural knowledge, education background, work experience, language abilities, physical abilities and attributes, philosophical and spiritual perspectives, religion, race, gender and gender identity, age, political opinion, ancestry, marital status, and military or veteran status.
Inclusion is the process of creating a culture where all members of the organization are free to make their fullest contributions to the success of the group and where there are no unnecessary barriers to success.
Equity is being fair and just. This means recognizing that each member has different circumstances that require access to different resources and opportunities, so each member has the best prospect for success.
Equity is different than equality.
Equity is about making sure each person in CAP has access to the specific resources they need. Equality, in turn, means each CAP member would simply have the same opportunities regardless of specific needs.
Equality is Not Equity
For example, hypothetically if every youth who joined Civil Air Patrol were entitled to learn to fly a T-6 Texan II turboprop, that would be equal treatment — every cadet theoretically has the same opportunity. But if CAP has roughly 1,400 units but only five T-6 trainer aircraft, not every cadet has equal access. Consequently, a cadet in a unit 1,000 miles away from the nearest T-6 may not be treated equitably because despite having an equal opportunity, they don’t have practical access to what they need to be successful.
For a program like Cadet Wings to be equitable, CAP must make accommodations so cadets who don’t have access to a CAP aircraft and CAP instruction don’t miss an opportunity their cadet membership affords them. Thus, CAP has provisions for cadets to rent aircraft from a local flight school if necessary, or in some cases CAP sends cadets to in-residence programs away from home. That’s an example of equity making certain each person has the specific kind of access needed to be successful. Equity matters, because one size does not fit all.
Creating equity isn’t a passive thing that just happens automatically when a new member joins our ranks and dons a uniform — it takes hard work, because we’re not all the same. Exercising our core value of respect for an individual means finding out what that fellow member needs to be successful and making it happen so their CAP experience is fruitful and rewarding.
When we help each other succeed, we’re better and more effective as a team. We need to actively remove barriers, create opportunities, encourage engagement, and support people. It’s not enough to just welcome to CAP people who may be different from us in some way, shape, or form. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not buzzwords — they are guide stars.
We celebrate diversity because that’s what makes our nation strong. We thrive on the diversity of thought, diversity of perspective, diversity of talent, and diversity of experience that come from people different than ourselves. CAP is not a monolithic organization. We have very diverse missions and pro- grams, we need a tremendous breadth of skill sets to be effective, and we want people to join our cause as a force for good regardless of what makes them different from us — actually, we want people to join because they are different from us. We need to celebrate that diversity so it flourishes.
We all need a paradigm shift in how we treat people in our organization and society who may feel or actually be marginalized. We are not all the same, but we deserve the same opportunities. Our challenge is to be that safe place where diversity is celebrated and thrives and helps attract others. We need to provide an environment where people can serve others in their community and experience some personal or professional growth in the process. And ultimately, we want to grow into an organization where diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t something we strive for but rather something that differentiates us from other organizations that seek to achieve what CAP has.
DEI is in CAP’s DNA from our earliest days. CAP units like the 111th Flight Training Squadron were integrated in the 1940s years before the military was integrated or the civil rights movement gained momentum. This didn’t happen because CAP had a policy, but because all that mattered was that some- one had the desire, skill, and motivation to serve, and CAP was a welcoming place to do just that.
CAP strives to reflect the communities and nation we serve at all levels of the organization. I encourage you to take an active role in celebrating diversity, facilitating equity, and fostering inclusion in every CAP activity and in every interaction.
Col. Juan Rodriguez
When Col. Juan Rodriguez wrote this column in the Fall 2022 Civil Air Patrol Volunteer, he held the rank of lieutenant colonel and was completing 1½ years as CAP's national diversity officer. He became commander of the Puerto Rico Wing on Dec. 3. and was promoted to colonel.