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NEWS | July 28, 2020

JBSA members discuss unconscious bias during ‘Tough Conversation’ roundtable

By Angelina Casarez 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Service members joined 502d Air Base Wing leaders to discuss unconscious bias and how bringing awareness can help mitigate bias in the military during the “Tough Conversation” roundtable at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland July 21.  

Brig. Gen. Caroline Miller, 502d ABW commander, Command Chief Master Sgt. Wendell Snider and Pedro Canadal, 502nd Equal Opportunity director, met with a group of Airmen and civilian employees to discuss "Unconscious Bias" during the wing’s new series, “Tough Conversation.”

The discussion began with a description of unconscious bias and how it begins at a young age, how people categorize things in their minds, their perceptions and how it impacts the decision-making process.

Miller then asked for comments from the Airmen. Several discussed examples of how certain Air Force processes could show unconscious bias toward Airmen by including names and photos of candidates for awards, promotion boards, evaluations, special duty assignments and training.

“Information used in submissions can unconsciously trigger bias for reviewers,” said one Airman who recommends using the Department of Defense identification number instead of personally identifiable information.

Miller agreed and reaffirmed her commitment to looking at internal processes across the wing to reduce unconscious bias and improve efficiencies and morale across the organization. 

“That’s something that we can improve upon,” she said. “We don’t have to wait for someone to tell us.”

The discussion transitioned with another Airman who was felt like unconscious bias happens with certain Air Force Specialty Codes, or AFSCs, who are often treated as if they’re less significant.

“I often hear people say ‘this AFSC doesn’t do real work,’ but sometimes we don’t realize we’re making decisions on the dynamic of the team based on our bias or perception of who works hard and who doesn’t,” an Airman said.

The discussion continued to flow through examples of unconscious bias that Airmen had faced or engaged in, unconsciously or consciously, and how the realization of the topic can help Airmen change that culture and shape the next generation.   

“It’s important to have the conversation and be a little more self-aware of what’s going on around us because sometimes we don’t realize what we’re doing,” Miller said. 

Canadal reminded the group to self-evaluate; to look in the mirror and look at their contributions to any problem. He understood that seeing actual change is important and encouraged Airmen to participate in climate surveys in order to help hold leadership accountable.

Miller asked the group, “If you were in my position, what would you do to see change?”

“I would force my squadron commanders to ask harder questions and be willing to change their perspective versus reinforcing it,” one Airman said.

Another Airman recommended leaders be more present and available. “Walk around and get to know your team.”

“It doesn’t help to have an open-door policy, if there are so many levels of the chain of command hindering you from having that conversation with your leadership,” said another participant.  

Miller reiterated the importance of Airmen to reach out to her with ideas on improving the command and expressed her gratitude for their time and input on the topic.

“If you have ideas, send them to my email box and we will have a discussion,” she said. 

The “Tough Conversation” Roundtable is a newly implemented monthly series focused on important, challenging and impactful topics that affect the Air Force and DOD. This series fosters an open and candid dialogue between 502d ABW senior leaders and service members and civilians of all ranks and backgrounds.