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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.

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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 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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