If you engage and have an open mind, the Navy Supply Corps will expose you to the richness of inclusion. Here is the situation in which I found myself: I was in my late 20’s, in the late 1980’s, on the continent of Africa, in the country of Morocco, in the capital of Rabat.
As a Navy spouse of the senior U.S. Naval Officer in Morocco (a Navy Supply Corps Officer assigned to the U.S. Embassy), I was invited to attend an international reception at the Ambassador’s residence. I was quite young, an introvert by nature, and honestly intimidated by the environment. I walked into the reception by myself (my husband had some official duties elsewhere) and I observed a sea of both foreign and U.S. military uniforms. It looked like a NATO or UN convention. I looked for some safe place and I recognized the other female American spouses huddled in the corner. I walked over to their group where we greeted and chatted. I immediately felt relaxed and safe. Until the Ambassador, the senior person in the room, approached our little circle.
When the others dispersed, he gently guided me towards a group of international officers and their wives. As we approached the international guests, he mentioned that he would like to hear me speaking French while attending the reception and joining the guests from other nations instead of other Americans. I soon found myself standing next to a very tall officer from Senegal and his beautiful wife and apprehensively greeting them in French. To say the least, I was out of my comfort zone. I spoke Monterey Community College French (which I learned while attending classes with my two month old during her nap time) with a Philly accent, while knowing nothing about Senegal.
That evening ended up changing my life. A proponent of direct leadership, the Ambassador strongly encouraged me and the other Americans to interact with the international community—this facilitated an environment of inclusiveness.
He set the stage for the American representatives to really learn the meaning of diplomacy, instead of just passively attending a party with a diverse guest list. After that night, and for the remaining two years we lived in Morocco, I vowed to seek out non-American friends whenever possible and work on my conversational French. It was uncomfortable, and it stretched me to the limit, but I was richly rewarded with wonderful lifelong friendships and a much greater appreciation of the value of learning about other cultures. Upon reflection of this experience, I look at diversity as inviting those different from myself to a party, engaging and listening to them, and learning from their perspective.
Although you may not relate to the Embassy reception, I am certain everyone can relate to entering a room full of individuals you don’t know and trying to find a safe place. The easy thing to do is gravitate to your group: active duty to active duty, reservists to reservists, naval officers to naval officers, women to women. The hard thing is to reach out to individuals that are outside of your normal circle—but that is a step to being inclusive. Get big and step out of your comfort zone.
Finally, during my Navy Supply Corps career, I am so incredibly grateful to have been exposed to so many leaders that have demanded inclusive engagement— it is such a powerful formula for a successful organization and a rewarding life.
~Article by RADM Debbie Haven, SC, USN (Ret)