TSA’s diversity, inclusion efforts go local

Monday, October 4, 2021
Diversity and Inclusion photo

TSA teams at two of the nation’s largest airports are taking the agency’s diversity and inclusion campaign to the next level.

In August 2020, TSA launched a new Inclusion Action Committee to ensure TSA is a fair and equitable organization, built on trusted relationships. Its first step was to engage with employees to better understand attitudes across the agency with the ultimate goal to strengthen employees’ respect and commitment toward each other.

TSA Houston and Detroit are taking that message to heart. Each has developed a local Council on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) to apply D&I principles in the workplace.

“Being a member of the Council on Diversity and Inclusion, I want to show the workforce that change is occurring throughout the nation,” said Tiffany Maddox, a TSA supervisory officer at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). “It’s important that diversity and inclusion happens not only in the public, but also here within our agency.”

LTSO Maddox photo
IAH Supervisory TSA Officer Tiffany Maddox (Photo courtesy of TSA IAH)

IAH TSA Lead Officer Cheryl Hilson believes D&I efforts will improve the structure and organizational health of TSA.

“The Council on Diversity and Inclusion is going to help teach us that it’s okay to be different, and we’re going to help others accept our differences,” Hilson said. “There are biases; there are prejudices, established in our backgrounds and experiences. We have to support one another. We have to have each other’s back. I believe this organization is going to bring about a great change, recognizing that all of us in some ways are different, and it’s going to make us better by learning my brothers’ and sisters’ differences.”

So far, IAH’s D&I activities have centered around education and sharing.

“The first step is defining what diversity means to people,” assessed IAH Deputy Federal Security Director Kurt Jordan. “It means different things to different people. Our initial focus is to develop a common language and understanding.”

Tanisha Robinson, TSA executive assistant at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), said the new D&I Council at DTW has hosted multiple listening sessions to gather employee feedback and suggestions, and DTW Federal Security Director (FSD) Steve Lorincz has implemented a monthly Diversity and Inclusion Award to recognize employees’ efforts or initiatives that promote D&I.

“FSD Lorincz has ensured that the same level of commitment exhibited on the national level to promoting an inclusive work environment was also introduced at DTW,” said Robinson. “The DTW Diversity and Inclusion Executive Action Committee is a model for leading organizational change and making the D&I program at DTW’s hub and spoke [airports in Michigan] world class. The work they have done is creating an inclusive workforce environment where employees feel valued.”

The committee has hosted several D&I events for DTW TSA employees and developed a plan to acquire, develop and retain a diverse workforce. That plan includes career development coaching and mentoring training for TSA officers, professional and ethical behavior training for [Michigan] Transportation Security Managers and partnering with the Detroit Police Department to coordinate LGBTQIA+ training for more than 120 leadership employees. They also coordinated a variety of community events to promote D&I.

LTSO Hilson photo
IAH Lead TSA Officer Cheryl Hilson (Photo courtesy of TSA IAH)

“TSA’s most important asset is its people,” Lorincz emphasized. “Commitment to our employees is a cornerstone of the TSA Strategy, and I have an obligation to foster a diverse, inclusive and transparent work environment for everyone.”

This is all a good start to the successful road to diversity and inclusion, but for IAH, Jordan feels the effort is in the infancy stage.

“Ultimately, the goal is to align with the Administrator’s Intent (leadership principle – support and sustain an inclusive culture by recognizing, valuing and respecting all individuals),” said Jordan. “In reality, those are words on paper until the council can see and believe this is not just an IAH initiative, but a TSA, DHS and government focus to improve and capitalize on our differences to make us all better. That’s a hard concept for people to grasp. People want change, but envisioning that change is difficult.”

He believes that change is not going to happen overnight.

“It is going to take education, focus, commitment and open-minded, honest discussions to begin turning the ship and truly capitalize on our diversity,” Jordan noted. “Diversity is such a powerful tool for an organization and empowering for the people in that organization.”