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NEWS | Feb. 18, 2015

EO: ensuring a safe work environment for all

By Staff Sgt. William A. O'Brien Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Equal opportunity strives to promote an environment free from personal, social or institutional barriers that could prevent Air Force members from rising to their highest potential.

"The biggest thing about EO is we're all about helping people," said Toby Housey, Joint Base Charleston equal opportunity practitioner.  "That comes two-fold.  From a leadership standpoint, it's about helping leaders identify concerns that may negatively affect a unit's human relations climate and assisting implementing proactive initiatives to promote positive interactions among unit members. 

From the workplace dispute standpoint, it's about helping employees, civilian and military, resolve differences by facilitating complaint processes and procedures that are fair and impartial."

The JB Charleston EO office works to eradicate and eliminate any form of unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment.  Their policies provide for equal opportunity and treatment for all members regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or in the case of civilian employees, age (over 40) disability, genetic information, or reprisal.

According to Housey, individuals who feel they have been discriminated against by a co-worker or superior are encouraged to resolve their concerns at the lowest level, i.e., confront the alleged offender or put the individual on notice by use of a third party.  Resolution at the lowest level tends to bring quicker results.  Sometimes individuals engage in inappropriate conduct or make insensitive comments in the work center.  In many instances it's out of ignorance, although sometimes it can be intentional.  Try to approach the individual first and see if you can resolve the concerns by advising the individual their conduct or behavior is not appropriate for the work center.  If the conduct continues, use the chain of command, e.g., a supervisor, first sergeant, or commander to address the behavior.  In the event an individual does not feel comfortable using the chain of command, they the right to file a complaint with the local EO office without fear of reprisal provide their concerns fall under the EO purview and meet appropriate timelines.

"On out and abouts, an informal walk through of a unit, we occasionally identify concerns", said Housey.  "It is another way for the EO office to assist leaders with identifying concerns in their unit that may affect the climate.  Sometimes we may see polarization, inappropriate signage, individuals not communicating, or numerous other concerns.  After observing the workplace dynamics and environment, we may make recommendations to the commander regarding implementing training, teambuilding, or potential workplace adjustments to address the concerns."

The EO office is a safe haven for individuals to present workplace disputes.  Oftentimes the concerns that are brought to the attention of the EO office deal more with non-EO workplace disputes.  In those instances, the EO office still works with the individual(s) to resolve their concerns by serving as a referral agency to get the individual the appropriate assistance needed to address their specific issue. 

The EO office also administers the Defense Equal Opportunity Climate Survey, a tool to assist commanders with gauging the pulse of their organization. 

"Many individuals question the anonymity of this survey, but I assure all, the survey is truly anonymous," said Housey. 

This survey allows commanders to assess their units within 180 days after assuming command and annually thereafter.  While the survey is about 20 to 30 minutes long in length, it is the most local survey a unit member can take. 

"I encourage everyone to participate in your unit's DEOCS when offered, because many times individuals voice their concerns to their peers, but never elevate them to the chain of command," said Housey. "If you don't elevate your concerns, how do you expect your commander to address or resolve a concern you may be facing?  Additionally, provide suggestions to your leaders on how they might resolve some of your concerns in this forum.  And while we tend to focus a lot on the negative, also highlight the positive things your unit may be doing."

Through the tools they offer, the EO office provides everyone with the opportunity to have a more positive, professional, and safe work environment.