Equal opportunity myth busters - Debunking tales complicating the EO Program

  • Published
  • By Jerald Alexander
  • 509th Bomb Wing Equal Opportunities Director
What is a myth? There are various definitions. Yet, it baffles the 509th Bomb Wing Equal opportunity staff how falsehood and unproven beliefs exist, hampering the importance of the Air Force human relations program.

At Whiteman, the EO office recognizes the importance of the mission and personnel. We communicate to all members both active duty and civilian employees their contributions in being proactive cohorts in supporting our global Air Force mission.

When an active duty member, AF civilian employee, family member or AF retiree visits our facility; we have to explain to them the purview of the EO program. Unfortunately, some individuals are disappointed when the EO advisors explain our roles and responsibilities. We often are told, "I thought you all did this or that." So, what are the facts behind these EO myths?

Myth #1: "Does EO provide confidentiality?"
The EO office does not provide confidentially. Any communication with an EO staff member is released to commanders and others for official use. EO personnel must report specific allegations of unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment to the chain of command upon discovery. For this reason, an individual interaction with EO personnel does not have any privilege of confidentiality. If our agency cloaked itself by not disseminating information, we could not accurately perform our primary duties. When the details are presented to an EO member, they will assist the customer by offering sound guidance or alternatives on how to resolve the matter at the lowest level.

Myth#2: "EO ruined my friend's career. S/he received a disciplinary action because of the EO personnel."
When our office is clarifying or investigating a complaint, we cannot provide any recommendations to commanders regarding disciplinary actions. Our job is to conduct interviews and gather the facts for a commander - basically fact-finding. In a military formal complaint, we either substantiate or not substantiate findings based on alleged unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment. The commander and base's legal office work together on how to handle disciplinary action. Our role is to remain neutral and collect the information during informal and formal processes. Our office stresses professionalism, respect and impartiality to both the complainant and alleged offender.

Myth #3: "EO is only for unhappy females and those nagging lazy people."
A comment of this nature tarnishes the AF, EO, and the principles of our democracy. It is Department of Defense and AF policy not to condone or tolerate unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment within the Armed Forces or in the civilian workforce. Our scope is based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws. The protected categories are race, color, national origin, religion and gender. Appropriated and non-appropriated civilian members are covered under the same classes along with age (over 40-years old), physical and mental disabilities. Bottom line is - this program is all for members. The 509th BW/EO is not a revolving door for particular races, origins, age or gender. Since 2007, we've witnessed a 15 percent increase of Caucasian males filing complaints in this community. One out of every three individuals visiting the 509th BW/EO involves unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment. We also work with members experiencing issues not related to the protected categories. EO staff members will refer a customer to the particular agencies (i.e. Inspector General, chapel, Family Advocacy, or other base elements) depending upon their concern. Our emphasis is to solve the problem at the lowest level involving your chain of command.

Myth#4: "I went to see them (EO,) and they (EO) did not do anything for me!"
It is difficult to work on an intuition. If you are filing a complaint, you must have an allegation based on a protected category or categories. The allegation is from the complainant (in a civilian complaint this individual is called the aggrieved person.) Here is a validity gauge to assist you with framing an allegation. It is the five "W's - Who, What, When, Where, and Why." Who is identifying the alleged offender(s) or witness(es)? What is the protected group(s) and what lead to or caused the unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment? When did the incident occur (date and time?) Where did the act happen (location) and why did this situation occur? You may consider "How" as a factor on methods to resolve the complaint. We encourage members to keep a journal listing specific incidents citing discrimination or sexual harassment. Proper documentation describing a conflict is valid in assisting EO members clarify the allegation. We brief all individuals on their rights, responsibilities and the complaint process. However, we also share that EO is not a personal advocate. The complaint belongs to the complainant or aggrieved member.

Myth # 5:"Why do we need EO?  It causes more harm than good."
There are times when members are not treated properly by a supervisor or peer. The 509th BW/EO program communicates the importance of inclusiveness and diversity in the 21st century AF. We cannot return to the days of separate, but equal. It is difficult to envision having separate swimming pools, barber shops, fitness centers, community activities centers or medical clinics on a military installation to divide members based on their race or origins. There was a time when victims of sexual harassments were blamed for reporting the destructive behavior of their supervisor or coworker. They were subjected to remarks such as "you should be glad someone is showing you some attention" or "boys will be boys." As stated in AFI 26-2706, Military Equal Opportunity Program states, "The primary objective is to improve mission effectiveness by promoting an environment free from personal, social, or institutional barriers that prevent Air Force members from rising to the highest level of responsibility possible. Commanders and supervisors shall only evaluate members on individual merit, fitness and capability."

The 509th BW/EO is an untapped resource for improving section, flight or squadron's espirit de corps and productivity. We encourage leaders to coordinate with our office for training to enhance teambuilding, interpersonal and organizational communication. Share with your members that each one of them plays a forceful role in your organization.

Fact - It is all of our responsibility, not just EO staff, to maintain a healthy and valuable work place to support the 509th BW mission and maintain high level of standard regardless of our race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age or disability.