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Equal Opportunity invites Airmen to join the conversation

Join the Conversation. 403rd Wing Equal Opportunity Office.

The 403rd Wing's Equal Opportunity office has created an initiative called "Join the Conversation" in an effort to revamp the way they brief Airmen in hopes of creating more dialogue and solving issues at lower levels. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

In a time when the Air Force has emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion, Master Sgt. Lorenzo Franklin, 403rd Wing Equal Opportunity office senior enlisted leader, wants members of the 403rd Wing to know how his office can help.

“I think a lot of Airmen have this perception that we’re just here to process complaints and choose a side,” said Franklin. “They see EO coming and immediately think it’s something negative, that we’re out to get someone. We want to change that.”

While EO is in the business of handling complaints on subjects like discrimination and unfair treatment based on certain protections, Franklin said the office prefers a proactive approach to a safe workplace environment.

“We want situations to be handled at the lowest level possible,” he said. “Sometimes things happen where a complaint is necessary, but a lot of times, it just takes having a conversation and sharing each other’s perspectives and feelings to come to a realization of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the workplace, and that’s something we can mediate.”

One proactive approach the office has taken is centering their briefings on interaction.

“We’ve started an initiative called Join the Conversation. Traditionally, Airmen hear the word ‘briefing’ and expect slide after slide while someone talks at them and tells them what’s what,” said Franklin. “Instead of boring them to tears, we’ve decided to approach briefings with units by putting topics and issues from our (Defense Organizational Climate) Surveys out there, starting the conversation, and letting the members discuss them and work through problems.”

So far, the office has been able to hold three of these “Join the Conversation” briefings, and Franklin said the positives of holding these discussions is apparent.

“The two biggest benefits that have come out of having these briefings is that one, people will actually talk,” he said. “At the beginning we split the units up into tiers: junior enlisted, NCOs, senior NCOs, and officers, and people seem to be more comfortable to start talking that way, and then we bring them all together to have all of those different perspectives in the same room. Two, we take what we’ve learned and share with the commanders and, as a result, commanders are more aware of and more involved with what’s going on and therefore able to correct something that might be enabling a hostile work environment for someone or a certain group.”

Through interactive discussion, Franklin said the goal is to come to an agreed upon plan of how to resolve and prevent issues within a unit.

Beyond large group briefings, he encourages Airmen to join the conversation in smaller settings as well, whether it’s in the EO office or if they see one of the three EO members out and about and have a question.

Unfortunately, not all situations can be resolved through conversation. Sometimes, some form of formal complaint and/or reprimand is necessary.

While Franklin understands an Airman’s potential hesitancy to speak up due to potential career-damaging consequences for their peer or pushback from their shops or leadership, he encourages those who experience wrongdoing to speak up.

“We, as an office, are not out to get anyone, but we are here to ensure a safe, agreeable working environment for everyone and we want people to understand that they have a right and a space to be able to talk about issues,” he said. “Airmen have to look at the bigger picture of the mission impact. It’s their right to choose whether or not to come to us with an issue, but if they don’t come to us; does their work, and therefore the mission, suffer?”

He said they’ve also made it a point in their briefings and interactions with Airmen to highlight the Inspector General’s complaint function for behaviors that transcend harassing or discriminatory, to illegal.

“At the 403rd Wing, we have a zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment or discrimination based on any of the protected criteria,” said Col. Stuart M. Rubio, 403rd Wing Commander. “We have a very capable Equal Opportunity office, and I encourage members to reach out to them whether it’s for guidance or for a formal or informal complaint. Our Airmen are the heartbeat of the mission, and without a safe work environment, we cannot successfully accomplish our missions.”