WASHINGTON (AFNS) --
The Defense Department’s commitment to diversity and inclusion contribute to mission success and must remain a consistent effort, the Pentagon’s chief personnel and readiness official said Oct. 29.
Jessica L. Wright, the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, discussed best practices for diversity and inclusion at an event hosted by The German Marshall Fund of the United States event.
“No matter what you do, you have to be cognizant of diversity,” Wright said. “And I will tell you the department has an ongoing commitment to this.”
The Defense Department’s military and civilian employees, Wright said, perform well because they “represent the nation in our workforce.”
“And I will tell you,” she continued, “that we talk about diversity in the terms of race and gender, and ethnicity, but it is much more than that in my mind.”
Diversity, Wright said, is also about “your thought process, how you grew up, (and) what you can add to the greater good because of your background.”
Wright shared a story of her experience as a young aviation officer in the Army National Guard.
“When I was a very young lieutenant in the ‘70s, I was the only female in an aviation battalion, and I was doing administrative work,” she said. “But I was also a pilot.
“So I went to my first assignment, and this very crusty noncommissioned officer was there,” Wright continued. “And I reported in as a spanking-new lieutenant, and he looked at me the first day and he said ‘I will tell you I have problems with women in the military.’”
Wright said “a million things” then went through her mind in reply, and she realized if she backed down it wouldn’t be a “good opportunity” for her.
“So I say, ‘Well, you know Sergeant Minsky, you have an opportunity to get over that,’” she said. “So I knew that was pretty bold. But I will also tell you, 35 years later, I retired as a major general, and Sergeant Minsky and I are still the best of friends.”
Wright credited Minsky for her development and his diversity of thought and willingness to accept her and noted he trained her “very well.”
“We both had to open up our apertures and understand where we came from,” she said. “And I think that’s where our department’s strengths come from.”
“We work together regardless of the uniform that we wear, regardless of the customs that we come from or the traditions,” Wright continued. “But we work together to support that one mission that we have and our common goals.”
Wright said the Defense Department has a strategic plan based on a presidential executive order including three goals: outreach, in reach and an engagement plan.
“I’m really pleased that we’re making great success on all of these,” she said. “We’ve made great strides in areas such as women in service, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and repealing parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.
“So where do we go from here?” Wright asked. “I think that’s the million-dollar question. We’ve made significant progress, but our work isn’t done."