Robins diversity workshop equips new group of facilitators with awareness tools

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78th ABW/PA
James Betances, senior diversity consultant with Sounder Betances & Associates, recently used humor to teach a quite serious subject - diversity.

Mr. Betances, whose Chicago-based company has provided diversity training to several well-known companies for many years, kicked off a week-long workshop Monday at Robins to equip nearly 30 military and civilians with the tools to help others appreciate differences.

"We take a group of 20 to 30 people and we help them utilize some tools that we created originally for the Army Guard on creating diversity awareness so that we can develop respectful teams that can solve problems that could emerge and make it more difficult to achieve the mission at the earliest possible level," he said. "We do this so (the problems) don't become legal (matters)."

Teaching people to understand the differences among women, men, cultural groups, and generations was all in the hat for discussion.

The seasoned speaker, who has been a diversity advisor for multiple U.S. presidents and well-known companies, began working with Robins in its diversity education efforts back in 2002, when former Warner Robins Air Logistics Center Commander, Maj. Gen. Donald Wetekam, and a handful of other base leaders approached the idea of diversity training at the base.

"Given the cultural changes here, with the increasing civilian population, the Kelly (Air Force Base, Texas) mission coming over to Robins AFB, we sat down and General Wetekam said, 'Would you train a core group of my people internally that could provide an in-house capability for creating inclusive, diverse, respectful, high-performance teams so that we could achieve the mission easier?'" Mr. Betances' answer was a resounding "yes."

In February 2003, Robins sent four people to Chicago to undergo diversity training under Mr. Betances' program.

Upon the group's return, Robins set up a diversity training course tailored to the base that was based upon the nationally-renowned speaker's program.

In February 2004, Mr. Betances returned to Robins to train about 30 civil service employees as volunteer facilitators to teach workshops to help deploy the diversity training.

Robins met its goal of training all civilian supervisors, officers and senior noncommissioned officers. By September 2004, Robins had trained about 2,000 people in Phase I of the diversity program.

In fiscal 2005, Robins began Phase II of the program, which involved bringing in the rest of the Center. In 2005 and early 2006, Robins began that effort and it continues today.

David Nakayama, director of staff for the WR-ALC, who was part of the core group to start the diversity program here, said the program is helping Robins grow in its views of diversity.

"I think we have a better working environment," he said. "I think we've seen a drastic reduction in the number of Equal Employment Opportunity complaints, union grievances, and other types of relational problems that stem from relational differences."

Mr. Nakayama said the training program is only one of many such efforts at the base.

And like many programs, the diversity program's success is an ongoing journey.

Jamie Cook, an engineer in the Engineering Directorate here who was among the first group of people to become diversity training facilitators, said he has learned a lot in his experience with teaching others about diversity.

"I've learned that the people, by large, are interested in doing the mission," he said. "We're here for a singular purpose, and that is to serve the warfighter. That's at the core of what everybody brings to the table at Team Robins."

Alan Mathis, director of Plans and Programs at the WR-ALC who has served as the diversity chairperson for the Center for about two years, said the diversity program promotes what Robins is all about - teamwork.

"The program is very effective in promoting teamwork and common ground as far as with the employees on base," he said. "I've been facilitating classes also for the last two years and it really promotes team building and working together as a united team."

According to Mr. Betances, the Air Force is the first military service to implement his diversity training.

"This is valuable to the people at the top, the people in the middle and the people in the early positions," he said. "It affects everybody because diversity isn't about counting heads. It's about making heads count."