JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
For two days, Soldiers and Department of the Army Civilians assigned to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command units at Fort Eustis, Virginia, voiced their opinions on diversity and inclusion efforts during a virtual “Your Voice Matters” listening session.
This Army-wide listening session, which took place Feb. 2 - 3, was initiated by senior leaders in response to recent events across the nation and within the Army. Directed by former Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy, the Army launched the worldwide “Your Voice Matters” listening tour July 8, and is scheduled to continue into 2022.
The event’s intent is to better understand concerns across the force on topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as dignity and respect.
“The Army must continue to put People First by fostering a culture of trust that accepts the experiences and backgrounds of every Soldier and civilian,” said Gen. James C. McConville, Army Chief of Staff, in a June press briefing. “Our diverse workforce is a competitive advantage and the Army must continue to offer fair treatment, access and opportunity across the force. The Project Inclusion reforms will complement ongoing efforts to modernize our talent-management processes and ensure equitable treatment for every member of our formation.”
Participants were first shown a video by Army senior leaders explaining why diversity and inclusion is important. After being informed that everything was open and anonymous, they were encouraged to voice their opinions regardless of the sentiment. If they didn’t feel comfortable speaking during the session, they were provided with an email address they could forward their thoughts to.
“I felt the session was very well presented,” said Darlene Roberts, an instructional systems specialist with TRADOC’s Quality Assurance Program, who agreed to share her identity. “I was assured privacy and highly encouraged to participate openly and honestly. Everyone was allowed to speak and elaborate on their points. The body language displayed by the facilitators indicated they were actively listening, I appreciated that.”
Comments and feedback were diverse and covered a range of topics from the Army Combat Fitness Test, racism and extremism, quality of life for Soldiers living in the barracks, daily work environments in their respective units, to sexual harassment within the force.
Knowing that race is a difficult thing to discuss in the workplace, it’s crucial to have a candid and respectful dialogue with colleagues. The “Your Voice Matters” listening session served as a great vehicle for individuals to reach out to each other and engage around challenges, whether professional or personal. It helped everyone know they and their input are valued in the Army, and this inclusion supports them being fully focused on the mission.
“When we do in-person sessions, the responses and information are truly anonymous because everyone is in civilian clothes and we do not know who is in the audience,” said Maj. Sam Winkler, a personnel policy integrator with Army G1 (Personnel), who was one of the event’s facilitators. “We never take down names and we never associate a topic of discussion to a unit or person. Our sessions are 100 percent non-attributional.”
Open dialogue is critical to helping people understand and support each other. In the Army it is crucial to have units and workplaces where every individual is valued. To have this environment, everyone must talk with and listen to their teammates, and gain a better perspective of different points of view within their team.
“We want to know what people are thinking and feeling,” Winkler added.
She also said that facilitators are looking for trends with the feedback. If they sense there is an overwhelming belief that some policies are biased, they know it is policy that should be reexamined further for change.
The “Your Voice Matters” listening sessions are focused on maintaining open lines of communication with Soldiers and Department of the Army Civilians around the world. Soldiers and DA Civilians deserve the opportunity to excel as far as their talents will take them.
In addition to the “Your Voice Matters” session, the Army just updated the Defense Organizational Climate Survey, or DEOCS 5.0, which is intended to provide commanders with an evidence-based feedback tool to help them identify and intervene against a variety of areas critical to command climate, including destructive behaviors, such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, and associated retaliation, according to Army News Service.
The Army will use data collected from the voluntary and confidential “Your Voice Matters” sessions to determine whether installation or Army-wide policies need to be reviewed, revised and/or updated based on systemic or institutional trends.