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The Department of the Air Force (DAF) for many years has assessed ways it could improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in its workforce and, in particular, increase diversity in its leadership ranks. Although DAF has made progress on these fronts, it needs a more comprehensive understanding of the scope and effectiveness of its DE&I efforts and potential paths forward.

This Perspective summarizes organizational, managerial, and procedural insights that RAND Project AIR FORCE (PAF) has provided to DAF leaders in recent years on critical diversity and personnel challenges facing the department. Using various methodologies, a PAF team of researchers found that there are no quick wins or shortcuts for DAF to improve representation of racial/ethnic minorities and women among the senior leaders or to create a more equitable and inclusive organization. The road to ideal DE&I is fraught with challenges, including competition from public and private sectors. Still, DAF could benefit from other services' and organizations' experiences.

The PAF team also found that DAF's recruiting, testing, and training pipelines for pilots — the traditional wellspring of its general officers — present structural barriers for minority and women candidates. Overcoming these barriers would require DAF to hold regular and serious conversations about race throughout the force; ensure that diversity and implicit bias training conveys organizational values and encourages active interactions; develop tests and measurement schemes that more adroitly identify individuals who possess critical leadership knowledge, skills, and abilities; and increase the flow of minority and female students into pilot training.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


    Douglas Yeung, Nelson Lim

  • Chapter Two

    DE&I Across the Public and Private Sectors: How Do DAF Initiatives Compare?

    Leslie Adrienne Payne

  • Chapter Three

    Impact of Eligibility Requirements and Propensity to Serve on Demographic Representation in the U.S. Air Force

    Tiffany Berglund

  • Chapter Four

    Conducting Community Outreach and Marketing at Earlier Points in the Minority Candidate Pipeline

    Sarah W. Denton, Dwayne M. Butler

  • Chapter Five

    Maximizing the Return on Investment on DAF ROTC Initiatives at HBCUs and HSIs

    Dwayne M. Butler, Leslie Adrienne Payne, Sarah W. Denton

  • Chapter Six

    Talking About Race and Diversity

    Douglas Yeung

  • Chapter Seven

    What Is Diversity Training?

    Douglas Yeung

  • Chapter Eight

    Implicit Bias in the Workplace: Assessment and Training

    Douglas Yeung

  • Chapter Nine

    Reevaluating Officer Selection to Improve Diversity

    Brandon Crosby, Carra S. Sims, Kirsten Keller

  • Chapter Ten

    Minority Pilot Production in the U.S. Air Force's Major Commissioning Sources

    David Schulker

  • Chapter Eleven

    How Demographic Differences in Pilot Training Attrition Relate to Pilot Candidate Selection Method Components

    David Schulker

  • Chapter Twelve

    Why Might Black General Officer Representation Continue to Decline in the Near Future?

    Albert A. Robbert, John S. Crown

  • Chapter Thirteen

    Leveraging Past Lessons for Future Impact

    Douglas Yeung, Nelson Lim

Research conducted by

This work was prepared for the Department of the Air Force (DAF) and conducted by the Workforce, Development, and Health Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This commentary is part of the RAND Corporation Expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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