The United States Air Force announced new initiatives to recruit and retain more women and minorities, as Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James warned that those who choose to not understand "diversity and inclusion" will not thrive in the service.
The changes include giving women shorter than 5 feet 3 inches waivers so they can meet the height requirements to become pilots and "gender-neutral standards for all jobs."
Federal News Radio reports:
Troubled by a lack of women and minorities at the Air Force's higher levels, its leaders are rolling out nine initiatives focusing on recruitment, promotions and retention. Some are new ideas. Others are existing programs that will be enhanced, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said. […]
Women make up 19 percent of the Air Force. But they are twice as likely as men to cut their military careers short, James noted. Furthermore, she said, both women and people of color are underrepresented in the pilot ranks. She attributed the imbalance to a male-oriented military culture, rigid regulations and laws.
The initiatives were announced on Wednesday to coincide with Women’s History Month. James laid out the plan during a "Women and Leadership in National Security" conference in Washington, D.C.
"Fostering inclusion ensures an environment that capitalizes on the strengths of every individual to achieve his or her maximum potential," a memo on the initiatives read. "Our foundation will be a reaffirmation of our dedication to leadership’s role because diversity and inclusion are not programs or initiatives; they are national security imperatives and critical force multipliers."
The Air Force will begin setting "gender-neutral standards for all jobs, including those in the seven career fields now closed to women," Federal News Radio reported.
The new plan will also "make it easier for shorter people, those under 5-foot-4, to become pilots."
"Height limits are set according to the size of the most restrictive cockpits, James said, but there are many other planes that shorter people could fly," according to the report. "By making the waiver process more widely accessible to ROTC cadets, James estimated that 900 more women could become pilots over the next five years."
The Air Force currently requires pilots to be at least 5 foot 3 inches tall, and no taller than 6 foot 4 inches. They must also weigh between 160 to 231 pounds, depending on height.
The initiatives also include "career development teams" that will create more flexibility for women who leave the service to start families, and "promotion boards" that are "considering whether candidates have proven that they can lead in diverse, inclusive environments."
"Those who cannot or choose not to understand that point aren't going to thrive in our Air Force as much as those who do," James said.