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ATD Blog

The US Coast Guard’s Four Steps to Developing Inclusive Leaders

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Developing diverse and adaptive workforces is more important than ever. The US Coast Guard recognizes that we must treat diversity and inclusion as an operational imperative. Our ability to perform the vital missions to safeguard the nation and remain the world’s best Coast Guard relies on fostering such initiatives.

To that end, the US Coast Guard developed its Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP), which provides a detailed framework and major initiatives to integrate diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging (DEIAB) into its service culture’s DNA. The DIAP emphasizes inclusive habits such as cooperation and empowerment. By building on these habits, the Coast Guard will create a culture of acceptance and understanding, which is crucial to creating a positive environment, and attract, recruit, and retain a talented workforce reflective of the America we serve.

The DIAP focuses on three key learning and development areas:

1. Develop DEI acumen.
2. Strengthen leadership DEI awareness.
3. Build and maintain an inclusive total workforce.

To better support each unit’s ability to have meaningful, inclusive dialogues at all levels, we have developed leadership training and e-learning modules. To further support leaders on their awareness journey, we created a four-step plan for them to model inclusive behaviors and be effective. Managers within any industry can follow these steps to determine how you and your organization measure up to DEIAB efforts:

1. Self-awareness and learning (leading self):
Coast Guard leaders must continually develop their knowledge, skills, and expertise as the cornerstone for building their emotional intelligence, which will maximize their effectiveness. They must be aware of their own unconscious biases and learn how to manage their conscious biases. After some practice, they learn that without these interventions, their natural state leans toward self-cloning and self-interest and that mission readiness is enhanced with diverse perspectives.

Coast Guard leaders understand that inclusive leadership and professional development is a life-long journey with many phases, ranging from being unaware to being an advocate for others and change. Inclusive leaders value curiosity and a growth mindset and seek feedback from others. They practice self-reflection to learn from experience, as well as the experiences of others, to develop more complex ways of thinking.


Examples of questions to ask yourself as a manager: Can I communicate my values to those I lead, both in word and action? How do I demonstrate humility to those I lead?

2. Cultural fluency (leading others):
Coast Guard leaders develop cultural fluency as stewards of our entire workforce. Culturally fluent leaders recognize, respect, and demonstrate that there can be different ways of knowing, learning, communicating, and achieving goals through leveraging our diverse workforce. Culturally fluent leaders actively guide and influence others toward equity for marginalized persons to build an inclusive workforce.

They demonstrate emotional intelligence and social awareness by managing relationships with an understanding of how racism, privilege, social construct, identity, differing abilities, and bias can impact our workforce. They are aware of their power and take the time to reflect on how others may interpret their actions and build psychological safety with their teams to increase understanding. They respectfully navigate cultural differences, conflicts, tensions, or misunderstandings.

Examples of questions to ask yourself as a manager: How do my decisions enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace? How do I foster psychological safety in my teams?


3. Inclusive collaboration (leading performance and change):
Coast Guard leaders encourage collaboration, creative thinking, and innovative solutions to overcome the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous challenges of the work environment. They create awareness and support by engaging multiple perspectives for key decisions and maintain collaboration throughout the change management process. They take measured risks, learn from the challenges, encourage others to do the same, and apply this same process to those who work for them. They build psychological safety by empowering individuals to be authentic and comfortable sharing their perspectives. In doing so, they construct an environment where people know their contributions are valued.

Examples of questions to ask yourself as a manager: How am I encouraging innovation on my team? How do I lead my team through organizational change?

4. Talent acquisition and employee development (leading the Coast Guard):
Coast Guard leaders leverage their knowledge of team members’ qualities and accomplishments to advocate for equity in tasks, assignments, evaluations, formal training, mentoring programs, and advancement and provide timely feedback when needed. They demonstrate an inclusive talent mindset by recognizing when institutional biases limit access and full participation and take action to promote diverse team composition.

Leaders develop and implement strategies to attract and retain a diverse workforce to maximize staffing needs and better realize organizational goals. They identify and address race, gender, or other discriminating inequities that may occur throughout all organizational levels.
Coast Guard leaders develop and maintain human resource systems and policies that are adaptable to the evolving workforce needs and promote a culture of belonging where individuals thrive personally and professionally.

Examples of questions to ask yourself as a manager: How am I holding myself and my team accountable toward promoting a culture of belonging? How are we helping to identify and address inequities in our organization?

Learn more about the US Coast Guard's DEI efforts in two previous blog posts: The Journey to Building an Inclusive Coast Guard and Building DEI Acumen in the US Coast Guard.

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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