The U.S. Coast Guard Maintenance Augmentation Team and Weapons Augmentation Team (MAT/WAT) Guam stand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Cmdr. Carlton S. Skinner Building located at U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam on July 14, 2022. MAT/WAT Guam, a detached duty sub-unit of Base Honolulu, under the Director of Operational Logistics, comprises 23 personnel from various rates who conduct depot level maintenance aboard the three Guam-based 154-foot Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutters.  
 (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Sara Muir)
ATD Blog

The Journey to Building an Inclusive Coast Guard

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Increased patrols in the Artic, multi-ton drug seizures in the Eastern Pacific, increased cyber events in the maritime transportation system, and cataclysmic environmental disasters—the demand for the US Coast Guard has never been greater as service members work diligently across a multicultural global environment to protect American security and economic prosperity. The Coast Guard is both an armed service and humanitarian service, and we are responsible for aiding people in distress or those impacted by natural and man-made disasters and enforcing maritime laws. These tasks drive us to be a center of excellence for diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging (DEIAB). Our mission seeks to develop officers, enlisted civilians, and auxiliarist members who hold our core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. And in doing so, we also must honor the talents, perspectives, and contributions of all the individuals who serve in our community.

The importance of diverse and adaptive workforces is crucial as we perform our vital mission of safeguarding the nation. To remain the world’s best, the Coast Guard recognizes that we must treat diversity and inclusion as an operational imperative. If we do anything less, we fail to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex maritime operating environment. Progressing DEIAB efforts within the Coast Guard is the foundation for an innovative workplace culture and contributes to psychological safety, trust, and the creation of a sense of belonging.

The pandemic may have stalled diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts at some organizations, but the Coast Guard pressed forward with our Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP), which provides a detailed framework and major initiatives to integrate DEIAB into our service culture’s DNA. The DIAP emphasizes inclusive habits such as cooperative and empowering. By building on these habits, we create a culture of acceptance and understanding, thus creating a positive environment, allowing us to attract, recruit, and retain a talented workforce. We have identified several important components to get the Coast Guard to the next level of our DEIAB initiatives.

Strengthen Leadership D&I Awareness and Accountabililty

Accountability for D&I efforts is an important step for any organization to strengthen leadership; for the Coast Guard, this has been highlighted in recent policy changes. Recently, the Commandant formally directed a name change to add the concept of inclusion to the title of the service’s senior leadership D&I council as an accountability reminder. The primary purpose of this Inclusive Leadership Excellence and Diversity (ILEAD) council is to assess the unit climate and leadership development of the total workforce, obtain direct input from the field Leadership Diversity Advisory Councils (LDAC), and provide recommendations directly to the Coast Guard Commandant. This is accomplished by collecting and analyzing data from quantitative and qualitative assessment tools such as the Defense Equal Opportunity Climate Survey and the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. The ILEAD council and LDACs are pivotal in strengthening leadership D&I awareness and accountability.

The Coast Guard affinity group program is another recent policy implemented in the service. The affinity group program establishes a framework to support not-for-profit voluntary employee associations and formally delineates the roles, responsibilities, and benefits that accompany these partnerships. The service commits to providing resources, consisting of D&I information, funding, and a designated executive champion to each affinity group through a Memorandum of Understanding that establishes joint priorities and areas of work. So far, we have established nine recognized affinity groups—including SPECTRUM, our first official LGBTQ+ group—and we’re establishing an affinity group to raise awareness and educate senior leaders and managers about the talent of employees with disabilities. We have seen a significant increase in members joining these groups, and we hope establishing these official partnerships will extend successful service-wide DEIAB efforts.


Build and Maintain an Inclusive Total Workforce

The Coast Guard continues to learn how best to build and sustain an inclusive total workforce. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, faced with escalated racial tensions and social unrest, the service held small virtual gatherings to encourage meaningful dialogue. First, we acknowledged the stress and impact of this situation on individuals and opened up conversations in team meetings to provide awareness and a feeling of psychological safety. We created a guide and checklist to assist leaders and managers holding these sessions, which included encouragement to strive to find similarities, connections, and common ground; demonstrate authenticity; and ignite D&I courageous dialogues. These efforts helped build relationships and create understanding of the social events that cut across cultural boundaries, enabling our workforce to feel safe during a dynamic period.

In addition to interpersonal efforts, our office of diversity and inclusion uses data-driven analysis to help inform decision making with the integration of new D&I workforce dashboards. These recently deployed initiatives provide workforce data, allowing the assessment of multiple factors to inform aspects of DEIAB and offering a high-level demographic lens for military and civilians with respect to race, ethnicity, and gender. The dashboards seek to identify hiring and separation trends to determine appropriate resource allocation for strategic outreach. Understanding the relationship of hiring and attrition rates provides deliberate paths to remove potential unseen barriers and attract and retain a talented and highly skilled inclusive workforce.


Create the Coast Guard of the Future

These represent just a few of many DEIAB efforts across the Coast Guard with the ultimate goal of building psychological safety and trust across the service. As studies have shown, psychological safety and trust can deeply foster a sense of belonging. When individuals possess a sense of belonging, they are empowered to be more productive and innovative, which is necessary to execute the Coast Guard’s many peacetime missions in alignment with the core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. DEIAB learning and development is a continuous journey, and leveraging the Coast Guard’s inclusive leadership framework of learning to lead self, learning to lead others, learning to lead performance and change, and learning to lead an inclusive organization provides a path forward for the service to reach its full potential.

Next week's post will take a look at efforts for building US Coast Guard's DEI acumen.

About the Author

Dr. Gladys Brignoni assumed the duties of the U.S. Coast Guard Chief Learning Officer and the Deputy Commander, Force Readiness Command in November 2011. In this capacity, Dr. Brignoni leads the U.S. Coast Guard efforts to ensure the delivery of mission-ready forces through superior performance-based training, career development, education, doctrine, leader development, readiness assessments and major exercise contingency support. Since 2011, Dr. Brignoni has had an opportunity to fulfill other USCG assignments to include being the Senior Executive Advisor on Diversity and Inclusion for the agency and the Special Advisor to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Prior to her assignment as the Deputy Commander at Force Readiness Command, Dr. Brignoni was the Executive Director at the Navy Warfare Development Command where she oversaw all contracts, requirements and programs to include doctrine development, Fleet Synthetic Training, and Modeling and Simulation. Other career highlights include being the Facility Support Services and Contract Manager for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic, the Executive Director at the Center for Naval Intelligence (CNI), the Director of Training and Learning Standards at CNI, the Education Specialist at the Joint Forces Staff College, the Language and Cross-Cultural Communication Specialist at the Peace Corps and an Assistant Professor of Education at Old Dominion University.

A native of Puerto Rico, Dr. Brignoni has over 20 years of experience in talent management, diversity and inclusion, training, performance improvement and change management. She holds a B.A. from Purdue University, a M.A.T. and a Ph.D. in Education from Indiana University. She is a member of the Defense Acquisition Workforce as a certified Facilities Engineer and a certified Lean Six-Sigma Black Belt.

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