OSI’s D+I roundtable bolsters strength through collaboration

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading
  • OSI Public Affairs

The Office of Special Investigations hosted their Diversity + Inclusion Council for a transformative four-day roundtable in Quantico, Virginia, focusing on advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) within the organization, from Aug. 7-10. 

"Stronger Together" was chosen to underscore the collective power of embracing DEIA, and led by Jakki Dixon, OSI’s Chief Diversity + Inclusion Officer & Council Co-Chair, who said the theme emerged following suggestions by council representatives. “We are stronger together than apart, and this is the beauty of DEIA…everyone benefits from it,” said Dixon.

Col. Tara Lunardi, OSI’s deputy commander and fellow co-chair, added that creating a culture of inclusion and diversity isn't just a matter of principle; it has practical implications.

“When we foster an inclusive environment for everyone, we benefit from a range of perspectives that drive innovation and excellence in all we do,” said Lunardi.

Twenty council representatives, including partners from the Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center (DC3), met to take back tools to raise awareness and develop actionable plans to advance DEIA priorities.

“Bringing the D+I Council together to collaborate in-person permitted us the opportunity to not only brainstorm ways to increase DEIA and also recognize the value to talent recruitment, retention, and mission performance,” Dixon said, adding that equipping the council with additional tools to use within their respective locations was one of her biggest goals. 

"When your organization is strong in these areas, there's a domino effect that results in higher job satisfaction, innovation, and morale for everyone," said Aishah Gustafson, a civilian Intelligence Specialist stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, who attended. 

The event featured key topics such as the Department of the Air Force's perspectives on D&I issues, top leadership presentations, OSI recruitment strategies and OSI’s own DEIA-related challenges and initiatives. Emotional intelligence, neurodiversity, and religious accommodations were also discussed to include a bias awareness workshop that was delivered to replicate across the organization. 

Neurodiversity in the workplace

For many attendees, the roundtable offered a first-time deep dive into the often-overlooked subject of neurodiversity. Dr. Margaret Swank, OSI Employee Assistance Program chief and a trained psychologist, guided the discussion on this. 

“Neurodiversity refers to the way we think differently, and how that interacts in the workplace,” Swank said. “All those categories [such as autism, ADHD] are examples of how people's brains work a little differently."

According to Swank, recognizing neurodiversity is not just about inclusivity; it's about maximizing everyone’s unique skills. "By understanding the specialized intelligence skill sets in our workforce, from problem-solving to critical thinking, we can better align individuals with roles where they'll excel," she said. 

The concept resonated strongly with Louis Watson, an action officer at the Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center. "I hadn't considered neurodiversity before," Watson admitted. "But now I see its importance for creating a genuinely inclusive workspace, where we can accommodate neurodiverse individuals just as we would someone with a physical disability."

Leading by example

The insights during the roundtable aren't just theoretical—they're being put into action. 

"I've been sharing the eye-opening stories of Col. Bumgarner, Col. Lunardi, and Ms. Mundt with my colleagues to illustrate how seriously our leadership considers DEIA," Gustafson said. 

Senior leaders didn't just speak; they listened and shared their own challenges. “For the senior leaders to open up and talk about their challenges and weaknesses meant a lot for me because it humanizes them,” said Special Agent Shuba Dahl, an Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) & Council Rep from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. "I think as an empathetic leader, you're strengthening the workforce.”

“When OSI’s top leaders engage in DEIA discussions, it sends a message throughout the agency that we're committed to diversity and inclusion,” Lunardi said. “Our focus on DEIA isn't just the right thing to do, it's a strategic imperative to OSI’s readiness because a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible OSI… is a stronger OSI."

To maintain the momentum, Gustafson also proposed holding quarterly D+I briefs for 5th Field Investigations Region leadership.

Data from OSI's Nov. 2021 climate assessment revealed that 79% of respondents feel OSI is an inclusive organization. "We're focused on understanding why the remaining 21% do not share that sentiment," Gustafson said. The D+I Council plans to delve deeper into exit surveys and employ other methods for better comprehension.

Gustafson praised the speakers for their authentic stories, expressing that she was "encouraged knowing that we have top leadership that genuinely cares about these topics,” she said. 

Journey toward inclusion

By year-end, each OSI D+I Council Representative is expected to hold an "Increasing Bias Awareness" workshop. 

"The opportunity to meet in person was crucial," Gustafson said. "DEIA issues are intensely personal, and face-to-face interactions set a strong foundation for ongoing work. It requires buy-in from all levels of an organization.” 

The sentiment was echoed by other participants, including Watson, who was one of four attendees from outside OSI. "It's invaluable to connect with others facing similar challenges in their diversity programs. Those connections become lasting resources and friendships,” he said. 

“I really enjoy being able to meet people face to face at the round table,” Watson continued. “Being able to have discussions with them, make connections with people that I know that I'll be able to reach out to in the future.”

Building a stronger organization

"Diversity is having unique thoughts, which you don't necessarily have to agree with. You can agree to disagree all day and that is still diversity for me,” Shuba said. 

Watson emphasized the uniqueness of each individual but noted that this diversity contributes to a collective strength, offering a variety of skills and tools vital to the overall mission. 

"We all win in the end,” he said. “We all can come to the table to share ideas. We're all able to make this country stronger, safer, and make our organizations places where people feel comfortable showing up to work and feeling like they're able to have an impact on the mission."

Building on Watson's sentiment, Dixon said the ongoing commitment required for meaningful change, adding, "This is a continuous journey,” she said. “Not one single person can do this alone. All of us together must recognize the value or see the value and then help me along with the council and leaders at all levels to get across the finish line.”