Equal opportunity services bridge more than race, gender gaps

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rachel Ingram
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Committed to eliminating social and institutional barriers, the 445th Airlift Wing’s equal opportunity office works tirelessly to foster a healthy, efficient workplace environment for all Airmen.


“The equal opportunity office does a number of things,” said Capt. Nick Menza, 445th AW EO officer. “Primarily, we act as subject matter experts on the two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo, and hostile work environments, and unlawful discrimination against the six protected categories for military members.”


Those protected categories are race, color, religion, national origin, gender/gender identity, and sexual preference.


Any military member may consult the EO office at any time, without fear of reprisal.


“Reprisal is something many people worry about, but it’s considered a crime in the military, and if it occurs, the inspector general may become involved,” Menza said.


The EO office offers both informal resolutions, encouraging the member to use their chain of command, and often recommending mediated conversations within the workplace, and formal complaints, which must be filed with the EO office within six months of the incident.


“For a formal complaint, we do notify the commander, the judge advocate general, and then initiate an investigation,” he said.


In all cases, the staff exercise empathy to talk, and just listen, to members.


“It doesn’t always end in a formal complaint,” said Menza, who joined the EO team in 2014. “We don’t always give advice, either. Sometimes, folks come in and just want to talk. They’ll go through a box of tissues, then say ‘OK, I feel better now. Thank you.’”


Beyond counseling members, the EO office provides HR (human resources) training, like diversity and inclusion or cross-cultural competency, to squadrons.


“The key is prevention versus intervention,” Menza said. “We’ve trained more than 200 members since 2015. Bystander intervention is a type of prevention.”


At times, EO staff venture out to individual squadrons to conduct climate surveys.


“We inspect the work center and bathrooms, privately interview members at random, and examine awards program to ensure diversity and fairness,” he said. “Climate surveys can also be conducted digitally, using the DEOCS [Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute’s Organization Climate Survey] system. We collect the data, look for trends, and provide an analysis to the commander.”


Ultimately, military members are instructed to view their brothers and sisters in uniform based on three qualities, none of which correlate to the protected categories.


“It’s merit, fitness, and capability,” Menza said. “That’s what it comes down to.”


Thanks to a memorandum of agreement signed in October 2016, thousands of Airmen obtained access to equal opportunity and human resources services. The 445th AW EO office partnered with the 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group to provide services to its nearly 1,000 members, and also helped facilitate other bases partnering with geographically separated units to provide these services.


“Along with welcoming the ISGR members, we coordinated with seven Air Force bases to secure EO, HR, and organizational climate survey (DEOCS) services for 11 other GSUs,” said Maj. Audric Bills, director, 445th AW EO office.


As a result of this effort, even more Citizen Airmen now have the ability to access resources for situations involving unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment.