Gina Ortiz Jones on diversity and equity in the military

As a cadet under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—previous U.S. policy restricted LGBTQ+ Americans from openly serving in the military—Gina Ortiz Jones forced to conceal her identity as a lesbian. Jones, who now proudly serves as Secretary of the Air Force and is the first woman of color to fill the role and the first lesbian to be under secretary of any military branch, has developed on Tuesday at Fortune’s The Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. about her goal of making the armed forces more inclusive, “making sure our people can serve to their full potential.”

Jones says those early experiences “knowing that your leadership team can’t fully commit to your success because that’s the policy” have shaped the way she leads. As the second senior civilian leader in the air force, she prioritizes surrounding herself with people of different perspectives and is committed to addressing challenges that disproportionately affect women and men. people of color, thus “impacting readiness and retention.”

“If someone in their day can’t focus 100% on the task, then we need to fix that, right? I need people who are focused on the mission, not on taking care of the children, not on other distracting things, that we can, frankly, invest in and make sure we have the right resources. for this. Because at the end of the day, if we leave talent on the table, we leave damage on the table,” she said.

Jones has also been committed to addressing the longstanding sexual assault problem in the military and has directed the placement of support services to make it easier for victims to find resources when they need it. “One, it minimizes re-accumulation; I don’t want someone to have to tell their story four or five times if they don’t have to,” she said. “Secondly, this also allows for better data collection…. this will ensure that we better support survivors as well as ensure that we can keep our prevention efforts informed. “

She also drew on the data to help highlight other “acute challenges” around race, gender and ethnicity that persist in the armed forces, and countered previous reports that women in the military is generally doing well. “When you look at the intersection of [race, gender, and ethnicity], you’ve actually seen that the advancement of white women is masking the lack of progress of women of color,” she said. “And so having that data allows us to see clearly where we have some of our own challenges, how we can make some efforts to make sure we recognize the problem, and then can address those things fully and holistically.”

The daughter of a Filipina immigrant who came to the US to work as a domestic worker, Jones says she knows how lucky she is to have the opportunity to serve. “So you better believe that every day I walk into the Pentagon, I’m pinching myself, and making sure I’m the undersecretary that I dreamed of as that young officer.”

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