Lessons in Appreciating Diversity from World War II

LockboWomen Airforce Service Pilots, left to right, Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn at Lockbourne Army Air Field, Ohio, 1944. - USAA Member Community

Photo caption: Women Airforce Service Pilots, left to right, Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn at Lockbourne Army Air Field, Ohio, 1944. These women pilots were some of the first to ferry B-17 "Flying Fortress" bombers. More than 1,000 WASP provided essential military air support in the United States during World War II. 


The challenge to defeat the Axis powers during World War II was a challenge the American military had never experienced during the early and perilous years of late 1941 and early 1942. Virtually overnight the American military, the entire economy, and the nation as a whole had to go from an unstable peace worsened by the Great Depression to a global conflict where the United States was thrust forward as the leader of the combat efforts. 


In a military period where uniformity and conformity were seen as enduring qualities of success, the United States quickly discovered that it needed to bring all the strengths, skills, loyalty, and passion of the entire population to bear against the nation’s enemies if the United States was to be victorious. There are lessons in leadership, integrity, performance, and qualities to be emulated today when we study and discover the path to diversity and inclusion in World War II was simultaneously a path to victory.


Lessons in WWII Diversity #1 – The Power of the Home Front. One of the very first challenges the United States faced was the immediate transition from peacetime to war. This meant taking the existing skilled workers from their factories and workplaces into the military and training them to be Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen while simultaneously taking women, older Americans, and untrained workers into the factories. America did this incredible workforce challenge nearly seamlessly and it represents of the great strengths and agility of the American worker. American manufacturing prowess and a focus on productivity and quality with a workforce that trained quickly and proficiently was a key determinant of economic success.


Lessons in WWII Diversity #2 – The Power of Standard Military Training. One of the challenges the United States faced throughout the War was how to get aircraft from the factories to the battlefields without removing much-needed aircrews from the battlefield. Enter the Women Air Service Pilots (WASP). The WASP’s were trained to the same standard as male pilots and took combat aircraft from the factories across the country to the combat aircrews that needed the planes for their missions in Europe and across the Pacific. Central to the WASP’s success is that they were trained as pilots, not as female pilots, but pilots. The use of a uniform training and certification standard was a central reason the WASP’s were so successful. There were other significant efforts of women in military service such as the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) and the WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in the US Navy.


Lessons in WWII Diversity #3 – Diversity & Difference Created More Success, Not Less. One of the great lessons in the power of difference to make a success was the use of Navajo Code Talkers in the Army and Marine Corps in the Pacific. During the horrific and intense fighting across the Pacific islands, the need for immediate, complete, and secure radio transmissions for fire support, logistics, battlefield coordination, intelligence and medical evacuation was an incredible problem. Reliable electronic secure transmissions that we enjoy today did not exist and the use of primitive code books for encrypting transmissions was time consuming, ineffective, and prone to deadly errors. The code for success was the use of Navajo Indians speaking to other Navajo Indians in their native language. These transmissions were immediate, secure, and virtually unbreakable by Japanese intelligence. The use of the “Navajo Code Talkers” was an instance were differences were a celebrated battlefield success.


Instead of a distraction to the United States effort for victory in World War II, diversity and the inclusion of previously unused workers was a source of immediate strength that helped the entire country unite behind the war effort and contribute previously unappreciated strengths to a successful outcome. The United States realized that diversity and inclusion was a strength that made the United States efforts even more successful.


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About the blogger:
Chad is the author of two books: (1) Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and (2) Battlefield to Business Success. Chad’s brand message is that organizations & individuals need to translate and apply military skills to business because they immediately produce results and are cost effective. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel with 20+ years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab.  Chad is an adjunct Lecturer of Marketing at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. In addition to teaching, he is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. He has been published in over 110 different articles in over 85 separate publications including The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, and USA Today. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.

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