Women and non-white Air Force and Space Force members face different treatment than their white, male counterparts in receiving promotions, educational and leadership opportunities and disciplinary action, the service’s independent watchdog found.
The report — the second such scrutiny by the Air Force Inspector General’s (IG) Office into minority airmen and Guardians’ disciplinary, retention and promotion data — also found that one out of every three women in the services reported experiencing sexual harassment while in the military.
The review “revealed racial, ethnic, and gender disparities, particularly in accessions, retention, opportunities, and to a relatively lesser extent, in disciplinary actions. Analysis revealed these disparities impact racial-ethnic groups and female members to different degrees and in different ways,” according to the document, which was released Thursday.
The report also found that “1 out of every 3 female military respondents and 1 out of every 4 female civilian respondents stated they experienced sexual harassment during their Air Force career.”
The most serious identified type of harassment for women “was sexual jokes that make them feel uncomfortable, followed by repeated attempts to establish an unwanted sexual or romantic relationship and sexual comments about their appearance or body,” according to the report.
The Air Force IG previously “confirmed racial disparity exists for Black service members” in a 150-page report released in December. But the report did not address why racial disparity exists in these areas or other minority groups and called for additional reviews and plans to fix the issue.
The effort was sparked after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd while in police custody, which set off civil unrest, nationwide protests and an Air Force review to address racial, ethnic and other disparities and their effect on the forces.
Around the same time, the military justice system faced renewed scrutiny for racial disparities.
The December report was intentionally, narrowly focused on African American disparity “because we wanted to produce something in a timely fashion,” according to Air Force IG Lt. Gen. Sami Said.
Thursday’s report expanded on the topic to include any possible disparities experienced by females, as well as Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic and Latino individuals.
Also released Thursday was a second document that “assembles the actions that have been taken and response to that first report,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters.
“The bottom line there for me is we have made some progress but we still have a lot of work to do,” he added.
More than 100,000 service members and civilians responded to a survey on the topic, while 122 in-person sessions at bases across the country yielded a combined 17,000 pages of comments.
The IG team also reexamined 21 past studies and reports involving race, ethnicity and gender in the military.
Kendall said the report “points out very clearly, I think very convincingly, there are a lot of disparities within the Air Force.”
Among the findings were minority groups were far less likely to reach top Air Force positions.
One of major reasons for the disparity was minority groups were not as often recruited for military career fields that traditionally lead to leadership roles.
Kendall also said there is a major gap in the perceptions of whether such disparities exist.
“White males, in particular, don’t think it matters very much, but almost everybody else thinks it matters quite a bit,” Kendall noted.
“Although this is just the beginning of a long list of things, there’s a lot of data there, there’s a lot to sort through, we started the process of doing that and we’ll be instituting a lot of actions to address those disparities,” Kendall added.