DHA Equal Opportunity & Diversity Management Office supports workforce

Courtesy DHA Office of Internal Communications
Courtesy DHA Office of Internal Communications

DHA Equal Opportunity & Diversity Management Office supports workforce

by Janet A. Aker
MHS Communications

The Defense Health Agency’s Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management Office strives to mediate employee-management issues and ensure accessibility for all.

The office is focused on resolving miscommunication and misperceptions.

In a nutshell, “it’s the difference between intent and impact,” said Tonja Ancrum, the director of EODM.opens health.mil “A supervisor might say: ‘Well, I didn't intend for you to feel that way.’ But it's not so much what you intended, it's how the recipient felt about it, their perception. Sometimes, it's how you speak to someone, it's not what you say.” Ancrum refers to the acronym FOCSE as a guide for supervisor-employee relations:

  • F: Are you a leader that’s fair?
  • O: Are you an open leader and approachable?
  • C: Cooperative
  • S: Supporting
  • E: Empowering

Reaching Common Ground

EODM helps parties in a complaint learn the difference between understanding and perception, often through mediation.

“The bottom line is to help someone get through what they deem to be a situation or an issue,” said LaShunda Henry, who covers the Indo-Pacific and Europe region’s EODM office. “Ultimately, we do what we do because we enjoy helping people. And it's not always the resolution the person is seeking, but most often people want to know that they've been heard.”

In those situations, Henry said, EODM’s role is to help an employee to process “why the situation is happening or to get their supervisor to hear their side of the story without being judged, and then getting them to the table to talk about the root cause.”

“I do this because I believe there's a common-ground approach to every problem or to every situation,” Henry said. “It's just helping that person or two people find that common ground in which they can operate. Once they operate from a common ground, nine times out of 10, it'll resolve the issue.”

Listening and observing body language are crucial skills for EODM staff at the mediating table, Ancrum said.

“Mediation gives the parties the opportunity to actually speak and go back and forth because you’ve got that mediator controlling the process. Without that mediator, sometimes they'll be voiceless.”

“Most often, we don't recognize that we are communicating even if our mouth isn't moving,” Henry added. “When you understand that everything about your whole body communicates, then you should understand that everything you're saying or not saying is being perceived a certain way that upsets ‘me’ or is a personal attribute about ‘me’ that I have no control over.”

Reality Checks, Resolution, and Moving On

“The office can also help with reality testing,” said Tim Fahey, an equal opportunity manager with EODM.

“We can help with perspective building, and build a relationship between the employee and the manager where sometimes things just grow over time” as a miscommunication, he said. “It’s not us telling them what to do, but facilitating that dialogue and that understanding, and that benefit.”

As mediators, EODM staff “can interject some our thoughts, but it's not going to be what's really going to fix the problem, but we’re here to walk with you,” Henry said.

“There are a lot of times we don't reach a resolution and when that impasse happens, you just close that portion of the complaint process out, and you move to the next portion if the employee chooses to move forward in the process.”

“It's not a one-chance mediation,” Luisa Gonzales, the small market and stand-alone organization EODM associate director, said, adding that mediation is offered at every step of the process. All EODM asks is the parties “come to the table with an open mind, to come in good faith that they want to resolve the issues.”

In her experience, “sometimes, management has this perception that, ‘Oh, I don't want to resolve that because it might set the precedent.’” That perception can be wrong. “This is not a matter of setting a precedent, but rather it’s for the best interest of the agency to be able to go back to work and move on from there,” Gonzales said.

It’s also important that a leader or key decision maker be in the room, at the table, to effect change following mediation, according to Keith Gaiter, deputy director of EODM.

Ensuring Equal Opportunity and Accessibility

The EODM also handles personal assistance services and reasonable accommodation requests from the workforce as required by Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

EODM must follow federal affirmative action laws; however, “reading for comprehension, reading for understanding, that's where we come in to fill in those gaps for management and for the employee,” said James Gilliam, EODM affirmative employment program lead and disability program manager, who believes strongly in proactive education for supervisors and employees.

Ultimately, it’s the agency’s legal responsibility to support accessibility for the workforce.

Gilliam said he strives always for empathy. “Everyone I speak to I think of them as if that were me. When I get the phone call from someone, I'm thinking, ‘That's me on the other line … I try my best to take the time to hear their concerns, address their concerns, get them to the right point of contact. And, some people let me know that, ‘Hey, I appreciate you taking the time. You're the only person I can get hold of.’”

As the DHA has grown exponentially, “it can be overwhelming trying to do the job for such a large footprint. But I still do it anyway,” Gilliam said, “because if I don't do it, I feel like nobody else is doing it right now. So, I do it because I love it. And I want to be treated that way if I ever make a phone call—I want that person on the other end to understand how I feel and treat me with equal respect.”

Misperceptions about EODM’s Role

DHA’s rapid growth sometimes leads to accessibility issues, and EODM is trying to correct these issues “as expeditiously as possible,” Gilliam said.

One common misperception is about the reasonable accommodation term “undue hardship,” he noted. “Most of the time, [managers] think, ‘That's going to be a hardship to the agency … when I don't have the money to buy a chair … There's always money somewhere,” Gonzales said.

“We're not just here for complaints, which is a common misconception,” she said. Through education, “we're better able to eliminate or minimize all of these issues that exist between employees and managers.”

EODM’s role not only focuses on supporting the DHA staff in their jobs but ultimately the beneficiary and the warfighter, said Fahey. “How can we help provide quality and great care to the beneficiaries and warfighter? That's our mission. That's our goal.”

EODM also understands the difference between civilian and military cultures. As director, Ancrum brings her own experience as a retired U.S. Army master sergeant who culminated her career being the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management Office.

For Ancrum, “I don't consider this a job for me, this is the heart of the matter. I have a passion for what I do. And that's for everybody, not just employees but also supervisors, because we're neutral.”

The Process

To learn about who may file a complaint, where to file the complaint, training resources, information on the Anti-Retaliation Act, official policies, and more, visit the EODM websiteopens Health.mil or contact EODM at dha.ncr.eeo.mbx.eodm@health.milSend an email or at dha.eodm@health.milSend an email.

All DHA employees and contractors can file a complaint through the EODM if they feel they’ve been discriminated against “on the basis of race, color, sex (to include sexual harassment, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), disability, age (40 or older), reprisal, national origin, religion, or genetic information,” EODM stated.

Complainants may have the right to participate in an alternative dispute resolution via mediation.

Those interested in employment opportunities within EODM can visit USA Jobsopens USA JOBS website.

Photo caption:

The Defense Heath Agency Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management Office team comes together at a March 10 meeting at DHA headquarters. From front row, left to right: Tim Fahey, Director Tonja Ancrum, Luisa Gonzales, LaShunda Henry, and Mischele Anderson. Back row: Keith Gaiter, Darjan Karanfilovski, James Gilliam, and Reginald Diggins. EODM staff is dedicated to the need for clear and direct communication across the agency as DHA continues to grow exponentially.

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