Together We Rise, Divided We Fall: The Importance of DEI in the US Army
“Leadership demands courage, a character attribute and an Army Value.” – ADP 6-22
We need to talk about the Army values and our character as Soldiers in our sacred profession. I believe that out of our seven Army values, we are most deficient in embodying personal courage, specifically personal moral courage. The lack of personal moral courage degrades our performance as Soldiers, undermines the operability of our formations, and erodes our trust with the American people. Our failure to embody and demonstrate moral courage allows harmful behaviors to foment within our ranks and cause irreversible damage to our formations. We must stop lying to ourselves and turning the other cheek like it is not our problem to solve. We must acknowledge the truth: our lack of personal moral courage has allowed exclusion, bullying, and divisiveness to permeate and billow in our formations. This lack of leader intervention and action creates hostile work environments for a significant portion of our formations. Hostile work environments are incompatible with inclusion, trust, and cohesive teams.
We must create environments where everyone feels valued as a member of the team. We owe this to our Soldiers and our nation. The end state of this essay is to increase awareness of the People First Strategy and to empower the reader, from junior enlisted to field grade officer, to be an agent of change while also being able to create more agents of change within their spheres of influence. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you move an elephant? One step at a time.
We need to better understand what “People First” means, and we need to better understand and educate ourselves on diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) based on the Army People Strategy Critical Enabler #3 (CE3), Army Culture. It is now almost two years past the initial publication of the Army People Strategy.
Key Definitions to Understand the Problem and People First Strategy
The Army Doctrine Publication Army Leadership and the Profession 6-22 (ADP 6-22) defines character as “the moral and ethical qualities of a leader.” Character is listed as one of three required attributes of a leader. ADP 6-22 defines these attributes as “characteristics internal to a leader. These affect how an individual behaves, thinks, and learns within certain conditions. Strong character, solid presence, and keen intellect enable individuals to perform the core leader competencies with greater effect.”
ADP 6-22 characterizes personal courage as two parts: physical courage and moral courage. This essay focuses on the moral courage aspect of personal courage. ADP 6-22 defines moral courage as “the willingness to stand firm on values, principles, and convictions. It enables all leaders to stand up for what they believe is right, regardless of the consequences. Leaders, who take full responsibility for their decisions and actions, even when things go wrong, display moral courage. Moral courage also expresses itself as candor—being frank, honest, and sincere with others. Carefully considered professional judgment offered to subordinates, peers, and superiors is an expression of personal courage.”
The vision of the October 2019 Army People Strategy is “to build cohesive teams for the Joint Force by maximizing the talents of our people, the Army’s greatest strength and most important weapon system.”
The Army People Strategy Annex (APSA) dated September 2020, defines diversity as “all attributes, experiences, cultures, characteristics, and backgrounds of the total force which are reflective of the Nation we serve and enable the Army to deploy, fight, and win.” 
The APSA defines equity as “the fair treatment, access, opportunity, choice, and advancement for all Soldiers and Civilians while striving to identify and encourage drivers and identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of the total force.” 
The APSA 2020 defines inclusion as the “process of valuing and integrating each individual’s perspectives, ideas, and contributions into the way an organization functions and makes decisions; enabling workforce members to achieve their full potential in focused pursuit of organizational objectives.” 
Army Regulation Army Command Policy 600-20 (AR 600-20) clearly states “the Army will provide an environment that is free of unlawful discrimination”. AR 600-20 describes what discrimination looks like when it is occurring: “Discrimination occurs when someone, or a group of people, is harassed, intimidated, insulted, humiliated, or is treated less favorably than another person or group, because of their race, color, sex (to include gender identity), national origin, religion, or sexual orientation. It includes use of disparaging terms with respect to a person’s race, color, sex (to include gender identity), national origin, religion, or sexual orientation which contributes to a hostile work environment.” 
Why DEI matters to build cohesive teams
A consistent theme for the above definitions is winning. We must stop seeing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a weakness, as an obstacle blocking our path to lethality, as a distraction to our mission as warfighters, as something we do not need to waste time on because “in my formation, we don’t have any issues and everyone is great.” People First is not a zero-sum game in which supporting DEI undermines our ability to “to deploy, fight, and win our Nation’s wars by providing ready, prompt, and sustained land dominance by Army forces across the full spectrum of conflict as part of the Joint Force”. Choosing to reject the talent that exists within our ranks because of personal bias will be to our Nation’s detriment. We must place a premium on diversity, equity, and inclusion to harness every Soldier’s full potential to achieve America’s strategic goals. Neglecting DEI weakens our force and makes us less effective, less cohesive, and less lethal.
DEI are interdependent with each other. We need all three to create effective teams. DEI is also the backbone of resiliency. We must have resilient formations to defend the Nation. The level of uncertainty we face daily is unprecedented. Resiliency is critical to face these challenges and take action to overcome adversity. We now live in an extraordinarily complex and interconnected world. We need different opinions and ways of thinking to solve complex problems and cannot afford the trap of group think. For example, Harvard Business Review Article (HBR) “Why diverse teams are smarter” by David Rock and Heidi Grant, discuss results from a social psychology study,
“though you may feel more at ease working with people who share your background, don’t be fooled by your comfort. Hiring individuals who do not look, talk, or think like you can allow you to dodge the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovative thinking.” We need innovative thinking to be competitive in the 21st century and beyond.”
If we care about eliminating harmful behaviors, then we need to care about DEI. If we care about lethality, closing with and destroying the enemy, and defending the nation, then we need to care about DEI. They are all connected. National security is inextricable from DEI. DEI is essential to building trust and fostering environments where all team members can thrive. Teams that have all members working together towards the objective will be more effective and produce better results than a team that is divisive.
Diversity enables cross-training, builds teams to have a greater breadth of capability to address a wider array of problems, develops subordinates to better understand and evaluate problems, and increases resiliency. We need to know our people to leverage their strengths and improve weaknesses. We must move past the stigma of ‘diversity for diversity’s sake’ or ‘diversity to be politically correct.’ These are examples of personal bias impeding daily progress to make our Army stronger. Numerous studies demonstrate how diversity is key to resisting dangerous groupthink. For example, in the previously referenced HBR article, “Why diverse teams are smarter” , the authors discuss further results from the social psychology study, “diverse teams are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective. They may also encourage greater scrutiny of each member’s actions, keeping their joint cognitive resources sharp and vigilant. By breaking up workplace homogeneity, you can allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases — entrenched ways of thinking that can otherwise blind them to key information and even lead them to make errors in decision-making processes.”
People First, Moral Courage and DEI in Practice
We must have the personal moral courage to intervene and confront behavior that is inconsistent with the Army Values, Army policy, and Army regulations. We must act. We must choose to intervene. To be clear, I am not arguing that victims are bystanders and it is the victims’ fault they were hurt. I am arguing that most formations choose to tolerate degrading remarks every day, normalizing exclusive language and behavior, consequently creating a hostile, counter-productive climate and a widely accepted exclusive culture. This is detrimental to our Soldiers, our readiness and is antithetical to building cohesive teams.
What does a team look like that is divisive and has members not fully contributing to the mission? We likely do not have to look far. It is probably happening in the motor pool, the squad, the platoon, the company, the battalion, the brigade, and the office. If it is not happening directly in your sphere, it is probably happening in the sphere next to yours. See below for examples of divisive remarks that were either personally directed towards me or I have personally heard:
“She is weak because she is female.”
“That’s gay” or “That’s gay. Oh, sorry, I mean dumb or stupid.”
“He is retarded” or “He’s retarded. Oh, sorry, I mean dumb or stupid.”
“Why are they always together?”
“This place is ghetto. I need to move to be near more white people.”
“We need to know what we can and can’t say around you.”
“She got pregnant because the unit is deploying.”
“The Army is soft.”
“Male and female Soldiers work together… What did you think was going to happen?”
“I treat her like all the guys, so I’m not sexist.”
“You will never be a tanker in my eyes.”
Every time a verbal comment is made that degrades a Soldier and is not confronted on the spot, that behavior immediately becomes the new standard and is deemed acceptable behavior. We must have the personal moral courage to enforce the standard. All of the above comments are inconsistent with Army regulation, Army policy, and the Army values, yet they happen every single day. When comments like these are made in group settings, the onus is on the group to correct the behavior, not the victim. We cannot continue to ‘fix’ the problem only by victims reporting infractions. A witness to the violation must have the personal moral courage to take action and confront the issue on the spot. Our lack of personal moral courage, and our lack of intervention has created a culture of bystanders. We must admit we have a cultural issue of tolerating exclusion, discrimination, and lack of moral courage to effectively resolve these harmful behaviors that are endangering our Soldiers.
Everyone, no matter the rank or time in service, has something to learn on DEI and culture. As Jennifer Brown states several times in her book, “How to Be an Inclusive Leader”, understanding inclusion requires personal and continuous reflection. Implementing personal reflection to understand inclusion is a critical step and requirement to eliminate the harmful behaviors of exclusion and discrimination. Additionally, deliberate personal reflection is a valuable tool that has proven to be effective in improving critical thinking and empathy. For example, in “Creating Space to Think” by Olenda Johnson, she states that research in deliberate reflection has shown the following:
“Supports leader self-awareness, empathy, and cultural competence (Branson, 2007; Cseh, Davis, & Khilji, 2013; Murthy, Dingman, & Mensch, 2011). Improves the quality and impact of leader relationships with followers (Lanaj, Foulk, & Erez, 2019). Enables leaders to gain the most from their experiences (DeRue, Nahrgang, Hollenbeck, & Workman, 2012; Thomas, 2008). Facilitates deeper processing of complex problems and more effective decision-making (Donovan, Guss, & Naslund, 2015). Enhances moral consciousness, ethical decision-making, and moral leadership (Branson, 2007; Thiel, Bagdasarov, Harkrider, Johnson, & Mumford, 2012). Provides a basis for cognitively and emotionally reenergizing leaders in their work (Lanaj et al., 2019).”
There are several books on DEI, self-reflection, human behavior, and culture. A few books on these topics that have made a significant impact on me and that I recommend are: “The Righteous Mind. How good people are divided by politics and religion by Jonathan Haidt, “Moral Tribes. Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them” by Joshua Greene, and “How to be an inclusive leader. Your role in creating cultures of belonging where everyone can thrive” by Jennifer Brown.
Lack of understanding and practicing inclusion is continuing to corrode our profession because we are afraid to admit that we, our actions and inherent bias, are contributing to the problem. An honest assessment of thoughts and actions is vital. A thorough education accompanied with regular deliberate reflection of inherent bias and blind spots is continuously needed to continuously move forward.
Empathy and caring for Soldiers are part of DEI and specifically inclusion. Leadership is caring for Soldiers and maximizing their strengths. Creating environments where people feel valued is essential. We can create these environments by intervening when exclusive comments or actions are made, however innocuous they may seem. If there is a group of people and someone makes a racist or sexist joke and everyone is laughing, it will take personal moral courage to be the one person who intervenes in that moment and says ‘hey, that is not funny to degrade others and detracts from our unit trust and cohesion’. That is choosing to demonstrate moral courage. Small moments like this exist daily, providing ample opportunity to actively engage, and contribute to changing an accepted norm and climate of hostility to an environment where we can all succeed.
We must truly mean People First when we say it by taking daily empathetic actions that display a People First mentality. America’s sons and daughters raise their right hand to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. When the United States Army makes the decision for the future Soldier to serve and states ‘yes, you are qualified to serve’, then it is our job as leaders to unequivocally say ‘welcome to the team!’ regardless of our personal bias. We are charged with training and leading these Soldiers. We have the antidotes to harmful behaviors. We must choose to get involved and empower others to be agents of change. We must talk to the people to the left and right of us. We must invest in time and resources to research and educate ourselves. Leadership is a journey. That is one step forward to People First.
“We win by doing the right things the right way; we win with our People, and that is why People matter.” GEN McConville
This essay was strongly influenced by the Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee, “How to be an Inclusive Leader” by Jennifer Brown, and the ‘Army Senior Leader Message to the Force regarding Fort Hood’. A special thank you to Kris Fuhr for her advising in writing this essay.
CPT Katherine Hathaway is currently serving as an Armor Basic Officer Leader Course Tactics Officer Instructor and pursuing a master’s degree at Arizona State University’s School for Future Innovations in Society. She commissioned from Norwich University in 2012 and has previously served as a Distribution Platoon Leader, Tank Company Commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop Commander, and Squadron Operations Officer.
- The Army People Strategy. Oct 2019.
- The Army People Strategy. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Annex. Sept 2020.
- Army Regulation Army Command Policy 600 – 20. Jul 2020.
- Army Publication Doctrine Army Profession and Leadership 6-22. Jul 2019.
- “Why diverse teams are smarter” by David Rock and Heidi Grant. Published by Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter.
- “How to be an Inclusive Leader. Your role in creating cultures of belonging where everyone can thrive.” by Jennifer Brown. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 2019.
- “We vs Them” Post. AASLH. 04 FEB 21. https://aaslh.org/we-vs-them/#post/0
- Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee. 6 NOV 2020. https://www.army.mil/e2/downloads/rv7/forthoodreview/2020-12-03_FHIRC_report_redacted.pdf.
- Army Senior Leader Message to the Force Regarding Fort Hood. 2020. https://api.army.mil/e2/c/downloads/2020/12/08/39ec2079/message-to-the-force-ft-hood.pdf
- “Creating the Space to Think: The What, Why and How of deliberate reflection for effective leadership” by Olenda E. Johnson. The Journal of Character and Leadership Development. Winter 2020. page 21. file:///C:/Users/17193/OneDrive/Desktop/WRITINGS/DEI%20Paper/12099-creating-space-to-think-the-what-why-and-how-of-deliberate-reflection-for-effective-leadership.pdf
Creating Space to Think: The What, The Why, and How of Deliberate Reflection for Effective Leadership” by Olenda E. Johnson.
“Creating Space to Think: The What, The Why, and How of Deliberate Reflection for Effective Leadership” by Olenda E. Johnson.
“Creating Space to Think: The What, The Why, and How of Deliberate Reflection for Effective Leadership” by Olenda E. Johnson.
“How to be an Inclusive Leader” by Jennifer Brown. 2019.
The Army People Strategy. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Annex. Sept 2020.