Air Force Survey Shows One-Third of Respondents Fear Reprisal for Reporting Mistreatment

Arnold Bunch Air Force Materiel Command
Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., commander of Air Force Materiel Command, fields questions during a breakfast with Arnold Engineering Development Complex team members, Feb. 7, 2020, at Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee. (Jill Pickett/U.S. Air Force)

About one-third of respondents to a new Air Force diversity survey say they fear reprisal if they report discrimination, harassment or other poor treatment in their unit. 

Approximately 14,000 airmen and civilians answered the Air Force Materiel Command survey, which will be presented to senior leaders from Air Force manpower, personnel and services and the newly created Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said Bill Snodgrass, director of AFMC's Manpower, Personnel and Services at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The survey, officials say, could inform future studies about inclusion efforts across the workforce.

Gen. Arnold Bunch, AFMC commander, was directly behind the new Diversity and Inclusion, or D&I, survey, Snodgrass told in an interview Tuesday. 

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"Really, the best way to understand how your military and civilian airmen feel on any important issue is just to ask them," Snodgrass said of the anonymous survey, which took about 15 minutes to complete and ran between November and December last year. 

About 40% of the Air Force's civilian workforce, roughly 71,000 people, are employed by AFMC.

From the results, revealed last month, the command learned that there is an awareness gap about diversity and inclusion initiatives across its bases, which include Wright Patterson; Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee; Edwards Air Force Base, California; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Robins Air Force Base, Georgia; and Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

For example, roughly 73% of respondents believed that leaders encourage using the Equal Opportunity program to report and address discrimination complaints; however, 31% of survey-takers said they believe they would face reprisal if they used the program, according to an AFMC release about the survey. 

About 95% said they trust that their performance is not impacted by their race or ethnicity; more than 88% said that their immediate supervisor took appropriate actions in response to incidents of racial discrimination in the past year, the release said.

"By law, we have an obligation to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, reprisal and disability, and [to] reach out and try to identify barriers that prohibit any of our airmen from reaching their full potential in being able to feel like they are fully contributing to the workplace," Snodgrass said. "As part of that obligation, that's kind of why we came up with our D&I survey. We're going to conduct this on an annual basis to monitor our targeted progress."

He said the survey also gauges what airmen know about the types of diversity and inclusion solutions the command is working on to improve morale and eliminate career barriers. 

AFMC airmen represent a diverse career group, Snodgrass said. "We literally have airmen from the grade level who are working ... to turn a wrench, fix jets in a depot to literally rocket scientists."  

Questions in the survey include, "Are you aware that the agency has been focusing on implementing initiatives to improve diversity inclusion in the past year? Do you think that hiring is adversely impacted based on your race, ethnicity or gender? Are you aware of the equal opportunity process? Do you think your supervisor or your leadership is taking this seriously? Do you believe Gen. Bunch and the command is going to do anything with the results of this survey?" Snodgrass said.

Keith Tickle, AFMC's diversity, equity and inclusion officer, said multiple commands have reached out to discuss AFMC's survey results but, so far, no other major command has adopted it. reached out to each major command, all of which said they are promoting a variety of initiatives to foster inclusion and regularly conduct defense equal opportunity climate surveys. 

"Our survey, although it's one piece of action, it is really integrated into a larger effort," Tickle said Tuesday.   

The Air Force began a forcewide survey earlier this month as part of an Inspector General Independent Disparity Review. 

The review, which covers both Air Force and Space Force personnel, is focused on racial disparities in the administration of military justice by race, gender and ethnicity within the Asian, Hispanic and American Indian communities. 

It follows the service's first racial disparity review, which compared the experiences of Black service members with those of their peers. 

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: New Air Force Survey Investigates Justice Disparities in Asian, Hispanic, Native Communities


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