Many people falsely continue to believe that having token minorities is a solution to a lack of diversity, while the key really lies in diversity of thought, said General Ann Dunwoody at a lecture this past Monday.
Dunwoody is the first woman in United States history to be ranked as a four-star general.
Dunwoody said she initially joined the army after her junior year of college due to a paid army incentive designed to recruit more women. She had been planning to work as a coach and a physical education instructor and considered army service to be a small detour in her path. However, after her two-year service in the army was completed, she decided that she wanted to continue in the army, a decision that permanently changed her life’s trajectory, she explained.
Dunwoody reflected largely on her experience as a female in an overwhelmingly male environment and the overall lack of diversity within the army. In more than one instance, she noted, she was the only woman at a table of men.
“I never worked for a woman. I worked for men who either believed in me or didn’t,” Dunwoody said.
She recounted a time when she was given menial tasks while her less qualified male counterparts were given higher-ranking positions. That was the only time, Dunwoody explained, that she seriously considered leaving the army.
However, Dunwoody said she made the choice to continue serving and stay on the moral high ground despite the inequality, and was eventually recognized and promoted to a position that reflected her value.
Though she has been able to overcome significant gender discrimination in her career, Dunwoody added that far too many people falsely continue to believe that having token minorities is a solution to lack of diversity.
“To me, the real power of diversity comes from the power of diversity of thought. Any organization can be improved by recruiting the best and brightest from all walks of life. Good leaders treat others with dignity and respect and embrace diversity of thought,” Dunwoody said.
She said that though notable progress has been made in terms of increasing diversity, there is still a long way to go. For those who are minorities or are otherwise struggling, Dunwoody said that the key is bravery and perseverance.
“If we let others drive us away from something we are passionate about or something we believe in, they win,” she said.
Even if people are initially given menial jobs, as happened to Dunwoody, they will advance if their capabilities become evident to others, she noted. She said that people must earn and establish their individual reputations, and if they excel at whatever jobs they have been assigned, they will be noticed and rewarded for it.
Dunwoody also noted that less than one percent of the American population is currently enlisted in the army. She added that less than 30 percent of males in the United States between the ages of 18 and 36 are currently eligible to join the army, a remarkably small number. Causes for this ineligibility range from lack of high school diplomas to medical problems, she noted.
Though the small size of enlistment might seem to be a concern, Dunwoody said that she believes only in an all-voluntary force unless there is a drastic need for soldiers, in which case a draft could be considered.
What is most important in the army, Dunwoody said, is maintaining a high standard of excellence. If mistakes are not immediately corrected and substandard behavior is tolerated, poor performance becomes the new norm. In a combat zone, this weakness can result in increased fatalities. Thorough leadership is crucial to maintain the standard, she explained.
Dunwoody ended by asking the audience to keep the men and women who are deployed in their prayers and to remember how important their service is.
Dunwoody was promoted to lieutenant general and the Deputy Chief of Staff in 2005. Former U.S. President George W. Bush nominated her as Commanding General, U.S. Army Material Command in 2008 and she was soon confirmed by the Senate. Dunwoody served in that position until 2012, at which point she retired from the Army. Dunwoody was among six recipients of an honorary degree awarded by the University in 2015.
The lecture took place in Robertson Hall on Monday at 4:30 p.m. and was titled “A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America's First Female Four-Star General.” The event was organized by the Wilson School.