I Believe You: Three Words to Inspire Cultural Change

“There is only one way to look at things until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes” ~ Pablo Picasso

By: Megan Biles

Our differences are what make us unique. When everyone is able to perform at their highest capacity, organizations are more successful and effective. Transformation comes from ideas brought to life through individuals who are bold enough to share their concerns to challenge the status quo. The challenge facing our leaders is finding a path to inclusion, where all feel confident stepping forward and inspiring change that will lead to transformation. 

Creating this culture starts with believing those who come forward.

How we, as leaders, respond to individual issues and ideas will influence the culture of our organizations. We must believe their concern and experience is real to them, and more than likely, real to many others within that community. There is significant power when “my” problem becomes “our” problem. 

There are three responses to personal issues that I have experienced from leaders. The first response is to be discounted for the idea or concern. This may be because the leader does not believe it is a significant problem or does not feel they have the resources to address it. This may because the issue does not personally affect them, or they cannot relate. You can visibly see the dismissal or disregard for the issue in their eyes, tone, or lack of actions. When the dominant majority does not concern themselves with the needs and concerns of the minority, people have a tendency to stop contributing to the success of the mission. Additionally, studies have shown that creativity and innovation used for solving problems will decrease when individuals do not feel respected and fear their ideas will be publically criticized.1 Who would want to lead, or be a part of, that kind of team?

The second is the acknowledgment that it might be an issue, but then you are asked to prove it. You are asked to come back with more data “to convince” them there is an issue outside of your perspective. This may stem from a well-intended desire to want to help. It is natural to want proof and be equipped to be able to further the issue to a solution. The initial response of “prove it” as it stands alone, puts the burden of proof on the individual who may already be hesitant about coming forward and this action immediately breaks down trust. More than anything, a response of “prove it” states the problem is not believed at face value.

This response is often seen when trying to work through the chain of command and hoping to get to the actual policy maker. Interim leadership may be cautious or skeptical supporting an issue they do not understand or cannot relate to and thus freeze momentum under the guise of requiring supporting justification. This is used as a stall tactic, often driven by a stability bias, a desire to not rock the boat or maintain the status quo,2 or due to the fact that they do not want to associated their name and weight behind that particular issue. It can be difficult to get honest feedback on how your team is doing due to several layers of supervision before something filters up to your level. How can we get revolutionary ideas to those who can implement them? How can we prevent ideas and issues stalling due to interim leadership?

Both of these responses are discouraging and will deter that person, and others, from bringing forward issues in the future. It tears down trust and sends the message that individual needs are not prioritized. There are many who are watching when “the one” comes forward and is vulnerable with their problem. There are many who are waiting to see if “the one” is heard, and if they can inspire change. And, there are many who are learning as “the one” is brushed to the side and forgotten.

This will influence what “the many” do in the future, when they have their own problems and burdens to face. This will influence the trust they have in the system to bring their own problems forward, whether they too believe that their issues can be solved. In an organization, when my problem becomes our problem, that loudly proclaims that the institution values the individual’s needs. There is significant power, belonging and trust that stems from my problem becoming ourproblem.  

That brings us to the third, and the most powerful response we can give. The response that will change an organization and make all the difference is to say, “I believe you.” What can I do to help? How can you and I team up to make this change?

To create a cultural change where all feel valued and included, we must begin by saying, “I believe you.” The challenge of creating a cohesive culture is finding a way for every person within our organization to feel valued and heard. There is power in listening that is underestimated. Empathy can be just as powerful as action. 

By reacting with “I believe you,” this response immediately sends a message that their experience is valued. For anyone who cannot relate or does not understand the concern brought forward, spend time asking them to explain. Gaining understanding is not the same as being asked to prove it. Seeking to understand fosters trust and shows a willingness to accept an alternative way of thinking. Ask from a heart of wanting to empathize; make their problem your problem.

Instead of telling them to convince you, ask them to empower you to help. Ask them to give you the knowledge and background so you can understand and use that knowledge to convince others to fix the problem. The leaders who I have seen embody this approach not only tell me, but they also show me they care about the issue and have empowered me to come alongside them and make impactful change.

This is not a call to blind acceptance and action, but instead asking for self-reflection, to be intentional with our initial reactions to others. Does the initial reaction encourage a culture of trust, or does it make people feel marginalized? Do we hear the problem and immediately think they are wrong? Or can we say, I believe this is real to you and I want to understand better. The hope is to stimulate a candid dialogue, where the leader either better understands and is equipped to help or this response encourages a mentoring opportunity to grow the other.

That is where transformation happens, because people are always watching, seeing how leadership responds. If they see a leader who stands with the individual and shows that their problems matter, that will encourage others to bring theirs issues and ideas forward. Some of the best leaders view vulnerability as a strength.  Society at times has an incorrect correlation between vulnerability and weakness.  Your initial response will either validate the individual’s concerns or further deepen a divide of the majority and minorities of your organization. “I believe you” transforms the perception of vulnerability from weakness into strength. 

If we can approach individual challenges with an open mind, genuinely believing their issues matter, and ask how we can partner with them to make meaningful change, then we can create a culture of inclusion. There is nothing more powerful than acknowledging that another’s individual experience matters to you. Trust can be immediately earned by believing and offering to collaborate to inspire change. We can transform the culture and improve the lives of those around us through such a simple first step. Those who come forward will likely surprise you with their innovative solutions, and it will show your entire organization that we value each individual and what they bring to the table. Through simply believing, we can inspire cultural change. 

The next time someone brings you his or her problem, I hope your response is “I believe you.”

****

Edited by Jessica Ruttenber

Artwork created by Miranda Embrey. Instagram @ Miranda.e.creative

Citation:

[1] Benjamin Wolff “Is Diversity The Key To Creativity?” Nov 10, 2019 https://www.forbes.com/sites/benjaminwolff/2019/11/10/is-diversity-the-key-to-creativity/#55a730d5155b

[2] Eva Rykrsmith “5 Biases in Decision Making – Part 2” Jun 7, 2013 https://www.quickbase.com/blog/5-biases-in-decision-making-part-2

The Capt Crozier Paradigm: How to Stand Up and Influence Change

By Andrea Harrington

I was once told: “A great leader comes to work every day, ready to be fired for doing the right thing.” The Colonel who told me this was a mastermind of recognizing and undermining bias and barriers. I was amazed at his ability to tactfully communicate opposing views, identify and dismiss or work around others’ biases, and move a meeting in his intended direction despite direct opposition. He was not afraid to lead boldly and stand up for what was right. He is an example to our military culture on how to influence change within the confines of good order and discipline. 

The day the Captain Crozier story broke, I thought immediately of this mentor and his advice to be prepared to be fired. Unsurprisingly, Captain Crozier was relieved of command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt shortly thereafter for authoring a four page plea to the Navy on behalf of the personnel under his command. The letter was published outside of military channels on public media. Although the details of the situation are unknown to me, I’d like to believe he wrote that letter knowing it could be leaked and ready to take the consequences. Due to his actions, the sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt are getting the care they need, the secretary of the Navy has resigned, and Captain Crozier received a hero’s send-off. What an impactful event to witness in military history.

Why is it such a struggle for some service members to stand up for what is right? Milgrams’ Agency Theory shows that in general, people have a readiness to obey authority and are unlikely to question it. Adding to this pre-disposition, military members take an oath to obey the lawful orders of those appointed over them and back their leaders up in every way. They are taught how to dress, act, and think within the confines of good order and discipline. After all this training on how to follow, it can be understandably challenging to stand out and lead, particularly when it requires going against the majority. It is intimidating and difficult to challenge the institution and be a sole or minority dissenting opinion. It could even be said to be contradictory to years of training and indoctrination of a military mindset that focuses on followership. However, there are times when speaking up and challenging the system is necessary and even vital for success. 

So how do we balance our career preservation, serving well, cultural expectations, and respect for the system and our superiors while still upholding what is right?  How did my mentor achieve greatness at identifying and working around those barriers? The following serves as guidance and encouragement on how you can best effect change within your organization. 

Choose your battles. To determine when to fight, consider others. If it affects a segment of the population (like minorities) or a lineage of people behind you (like a deployment billet triple filled), then it is time to stand up and fight. We owe it to each other and those who come after us to fix the system we are in. We are the check and balance. Every time we put our head down and accept the wrong solution, we are enabling the same thing to happen to everyone down the line. 

Make a coherent argument. This is vitally important. Nothing will change without accomplishing this step. If you go into it with a half-cocked idea fueled by emotions instead of sound reasoning, you will not succeed in impacting change. There is a common saying to bring the solution, not just the problem. This is decent but incomplete advice. Prepare multiple solutions, not one solution. Be prepared for all of your solutions to have holes you didn’t anticipate, but do enough research to be confident you know as much as possible. 

Be open to suggestions and compromises. Be willing to adjust your solutions or how you approach the problem based on the advice and guidance you receive.

Make your argument fit your audience. This may require you to build several different cases, one for each audience you must convince! Know what they value, why they will oppose or support your argument, and what they will and will not respond to. Do not make the argument YOU want to make; make the argument THEY will listen to and respond to. This doesn’t mean change your suggestion; it means tailor the way you present it. A good salesman can sell animal fur to a PETA member. You have to be an excellent salesman.


Fact-check. Ensure what you propose is legally and morally correct. Run your situation and your solutions by other people, not just your friends or peers, to understand outside opinions. Find subject matter experts, let them shoot holes in your plans. Ask an older mentor. Ask a younger airman. Be thorough. Ask for candid feedback and take it graciously. Adjust your solutions.
 

Use the chain command. The chain of command is a “chain”, and you can respectfully “climb” the chain. Rarely if ever do I hear of Airmen getting a “no” from their immediate supervisor. Once you have prepared your battle, it is time to climb up the chain as far as you need until you find an ally. To do this properly, you must inform each level of your intent to contact their supervisor. Do not do this backhandedly. People do not get themselves and their career into trouble for advocating for change and disrupting the system; they get in trouble for going about it the wrong way. 

Be gracious. At the end of the meeting with your supervisor, say “thank you for your time, and I hear your answer”. If they are not initially supportive, try and further expand upon the more substantial impact such an issue may be having on the force. DO NOT engage disrespectfully, use foul language, or become hostile in any way. If the other person’s emotions start to rise, try to remove yourself from the situation. 

Document the meeting. Take notes or document through an MFR. If you continue to meet resistance, continue up the chain until you have reached the highest member on your base, and document along the way!

Determine your next step. Ideally, you have found an advocate in your leadership chain. If you have, great! Check-in with them as often as is appropriate but be patient and let them help you. Change, unfortunately, take a lot of time. 

Consider other options. There are agencies designed to protect the member and support change. Utilize Equal Opportunity, the Inspector General, a congressional inquiry (as a civilian), or other advocate groups. Utilize the wing, command, or headquarters level diversity and inclusion working group or other applicable advocacy groups. They are set up just to remove barriers and fix the system’s inadequacies. 

Be patient. I cannot emphasize this enough. Change in bureaucracies requires persistence and time. Be the squeaky wheel, but be ready to squeak for a long time if you’re fighting for systematic change, especially at the department level. 

Build a network. Surround yourself with like-minded people, and advocate together. The higher up you find advocacy, the more likely change will occur on your timeline. 

Finally, lead fearlessly. Be willing to take a stand. Do your research. Be the smartest person in the room. Know and play to your audience. Know every argument your opposition will make against you. Then, fearlessly push forward. Above all else, be ready to be fired. If the cause is worth fighting for, you have to be willing to stand up and not take “no” for an answer. We owe this kind of leadership to our people and to the long line of outstanding Americans who sign up to serve behind us. We cannot continue to keep our heads down or look away.

Be willing to be fired for doing the right thing. 

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This is not a call to be disobedient or to reject authority. We cannot have a military consisting of Airmen who do not obey orders or who constantly undermine the military structure and its leaders. However, blindly following and never challenging the system is the enemy of progress. When the system or guidance in place does not represent best practices or, worse, actually hinders or harms the military member, stand up and change it. There are professional ways to challenge a supervisor’s decision or an institutional regulation without weakening the good order and discipline of the unit. Obedience occurs when you are told to do something (by an authority), conformity happens through social pressure (the norms of the majority ). Do not confuse obedience with conformity; I challenge you to not blindly conform. There are ways to professionally dissent and effect change. You can challenge the system or a supervisor without derailing the mission. And there are processes in place to elevate an issue should the supervisor be unwilling to listen and effect the change you believe in. Do not blindly follow; be willing to challenge the institution to make it better.

Pregnant Pilots

Breastfeeding at 40,000 feet; 8 things I learned along the way.

By Jessica Ruttenber

Only 5% of Air Force pilots are female.  In 2018, 9.5% of female pilots (117 of 1237) were pregnant. Total women in the commercial industry mirrors these ratios ranging between 5-7%. Given the thousands of aircraft in the Air Force inventory and the low numbers of females, the likelihood of seeing a pregnant pilot in the cockpit is a rare event. Statistically speaking it falls somewhere between seeing a unicorn and winning the lottery.  

Not every Air Force pilot can or opts to fly during pregnancy. Aviators are encouraged to work with their obstetrician and flight surgeon to pick a path tailored to accommodate their needs and preferences. For uncomplicated pregnancies, most heavy aircraft pilots may elect to continue to fly in their second trimester.  Currently, the service is reviewing occupational hazards in aviation to see if more opportunities can be expanded for pregnant airmen on all platforms.  In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not consider “pregnancy under normal circumstances” as a disqualifying condition. Most major airlines have pregnant pilots electing to fly into their third trimester.

In 2011, I was expecting my first child. Although I was not the first pilot to have a baby, I had never seen a pregnant aviator fly or one that continued to breastfeed while returning to work. This was before the creation of Facebook social media sites like Pilots Moms and Female Aviators Stick Together (FAST). I found myself making up the rules as I went on this incredible journey. Over three pregnancies, I flew the KC-135 Stratotanker and the C-21 Learjet while stationed at Birmingham, Alabama; Ramstein, Germany; and Altus Oklahoma. Fortunately, I experienced healthy pregnancies, did not to encounter complications, and was able to fly training and operational missions while maintaining my qualifications.

After pregnancy, choosing whether to breastfeed or to use formula is a personal choice. I chose to breastfeed because of the health benefits for both mom and the baby. The Air Force lactation policy mandates time and a private, secure and sanitary location for the purpose of breastfeeding.  So how does that work when your office is a flight deck?  

The FAA and most airlines lack clear guidance on breastfeeding policies for their pilots. Commercial pilots are exempted from the provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide a reasonable amount of break time and a space to express milk as frequently as needed for up to one year following the birth.  Delta Airlines Flight Ops Manual (FOM) does not explicitly address breastfeeding during flight but does state that pilots may leave their duty stations for physiological reasons. Delta also guarantees one year of unpaid leave of absence after delivery for the purpose of bonding and breastfeeding. Most pilots do not use the one year option due to the loss of income in conjunction with their healthcare premiums quadrupling due to the extended absence.

Along the way I learned a few things, some more comical than others. I’d like to share with you what worked for this flying mama. So let’s start this awkward conversation.

1. There will be a wide range of people that will be supportive, curious, and uncomfortable with you flying pregnant and pumping postpartum.

In the minds of most there is a narrative implanted by social conditioning that describes what a pilot “should” look like.  Spoiler alert, this pilot is never pregnant.  The best tool to de-stigmatize pregnant aviators is education.  Most unease comes out of well meaning concern for safety and not from fact based evidence.  The absence of knowledge leaves room for fear of the unknown. Lead these conversations and talk about the worrisome risks. My fondest postpartum question was from a commander that came to me before flying a nine hour oceanic crossing to ask “I don’t need to know how the thing works (the pump). I only need to know if it has a quick disconnect in case we have an aircraft emergency.”

2. Pumping MUST be included in your mission planning

A key to a successful mission starts with the preparation put into the sortie during mission planning.   Mission timing is planned out by the minute from when the crew shows at the beginning of the day until engine shutdown and the crew debriefs.  Not setting up time in your planned profile to pump will set you up for failure. For me, I ended our pre-flight briefing 20 minutes prior to walking out to the jet to pump. Enroute cruise flight time to and from air refueling operations made an ideal time for pumping.  Expect that flight operations will have changes and you may need to adapt to the new plan. The world won’t end if you need to remain in an airborne holding pattern an extra five minutes. If you are not the aircraft commander make sure you explain your physiological needs to them in advance.

3. If you have a difficult time breastfeeding in public on the ground it’s not going to get any easier in the air.

Major Melissa Hammond taking care of her physiological needs in the KC-135

At this point you need to decide if you will pump in the pilot seat on the flight deck or check off and find an alternate location on the aircraft such as the cargo compartment. Communication is everything.  Be open with your crew about when and how you plan to pump.  For example, if a pilot leaves the seat above 35,000 feet the remaining pilot flying the plane may be required to wear an oxygen mask. These conversation may feel awkward at first but they are important.

The advantage of a two piloted aircraft is that you don’t have to be in the seat in most aircraft to take care of physiological needs.  For me I started by checking off to the back as I fumbled with this new process.  By the time I was on my third child I would turn on the autopilot while I pumped in the seat with a modest cover that was a neutral green to blend in with my flight suit. There may be reasons you will need to stay in the seat such as an unqualified student, time constraints or the aircraft is logistically too small. In the C-21 I was less than 12 inches from the other pilot so things got personal real quick.  Your confidence will increase over time and you need to prepare yourself for the high likelihood that at some point your crew may get an unintended “sneak peek.” For your first couple flights after you return to fly, I would recommend selecting another pilot to fly with that you are comfortable with as you figure out how the logistics will work for you.  Often men that have had spouses that breastfeed are already familiar and comfortable with the process.

4. Buy the expensive hands free pump.

Do NOT buy a pump that needs to be plugged in while in use even if it is the only one your insurance covers.  Even if you have to pay out of pocket the logistics while flying is next to impossible and the stress isn’t worth it.  The best option for me at the time was the Medela Freestyle Breast Pump for about $400. However, the latest wearable breast pump by Willow has been a game changer.  There are no external tubes or wires and it slides into your bra.  In my later years I flew with a pilot wearing one and I didn’t even realize she was pumping until she popped it out to put in the cooler. It’s expensive but so is formula and an investment in a quality pump can be used for more than one pregnancy.

5. ALWAYS, have spare parts and a backup manual pump with you on EVERY mission.

Your pump will break or malfunction and it will be at the worst time.  Perhaps, it looks like an unexpected weather divert and you didn’t make it back to your home base. Alternatively, maybe you will be on a trip that landed late because you stepped to a spare jet and now nothing is open to get replacement parts.  Spend the $30 dollars on a manual pump with some storage bags and throw it next to your divert kit.  You know the one with your spare tooth brush and old makeup. You cannot simply decide to stop physically pumping past your normal interval for a long period of time and tough it out.  You are setting yourself up for a medical condition called Mastitis that is a painful inflammation of the breast which symptoms include pain and a fever. Within 24-48 hours you will go DNIF (Duties Not Including Flying) and if you are on a multi-day trip you can see how problematic this can be.

6. Have a plan to bring back breast milk on long trips and learn to be okay with it not making it back.

For short trips make sure you have a refrigerator in your hotel room and have access to ice to replenish your cooler. If you are at a civilian airport TSA will allow you to take it through security (on occasion they might ask to test it).  For longer trips you may need to access dry ice because once milk is frozen it must stay frozen or be used within days.  This goes back to mission planning and knowing in advance where you can find this resource.  I once flew with a new mom who saved her supply from a 30 day deployment we were on.  We planned it perfectly and got dry ice on every stop on our three day trip home until the last leg.  We had a maintenance delay and landed in Hawaii in the middle of the night. The only place with dry ice had closed and my friend was on the brink of losing a month’s worth of breastmilk.  We saved her milk by the grace of a night gas station manager that allowed us to put the cooler in the back storage freezer until the morning.

7. Your child will still get into college if you supplement with formula.

You may feel guilty if you set unrealistic goals for yourself.  I wanted to breastfeed for a year and made it to six months with all three of my children.  Give yourself permission to say that you did your best and take it from there.

8. Flying will dehydrate you and your supply will drop.

The air pulled from high altitudes is dryer than the air below and you will need to drink more water to prevent dehydration even when you are not breastfeeding.  So stop decreasing your water intake (which some call tactically dehydrating yourself) and drink more water–when you think you have had enough, drink some more water.  Dehydration will significantly lower your milk supply and frustrate you.

Balancing the demands of your career and the needs of your child is tough on every working parent. Being a successful pilot and a mother is achievable with proper planning and expectation management. The origins of aircraft designs and policies did not have women in mind and create varying degrees of difficulty. That is why it is important that we continue to have these awkward conversations.

STOP HIDING IN THE BATHROOM

Understanding the importance of taking the first step in building a more positive culture.

By Jessica Ruttenber

Does policy change culture or does culture change policy? In general, I would argue both philosophies are correct. Part of changing culture is top down leadership driving policy change through a robust implementation of a strategy designed to educate and train their organization. Properly implemented, policy sends a clear message of expectations and guides the values of an organization. A policy can shape principles, guide decisions, and achieve outcomes. It is a statement of intent implemented as a procedure or protocol. Policy, by itself, won’t change the characteristics of a culture, but it is a necessary and essential, first step. Policy is symbolically and practically a meaningful way to create change.

So how do you change an institution steeped in bureaucracy? An institution that has long since accepted the seemingly impossible mantra of, “that’s the way we have always done it.” To effect change in such a challenging environment, I would like to present three ideas for consideration.

Immediately upon entering the service, we begin to assimilate its values. To a significant degree, they become adopted as our own. A service component’s core values are essential for a strong sense of organizational identity, resulting in an overall positive outcome.

Core Values
Air Force: Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.
Army: Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.
Coast Guard: Honor, respect, and devotion to duty.
Marine Corps/Navy: Honor, courage, and commitment.

Each service has its own unique culture at large while simultaneously fostering smaller subcultures within different career specialties. When an individual does not naturally reflect the images of the organization’s or subculture’s dominate majority, they often resort to coping strategies in order to be successful or fit in. Occasionally, this results in adopting an organization’s culture that does not align with their own beliefs. Overtime, the individual begins to internalize this new way of thinking, believing that this is how the world should work. My first challenge to you is to stop taking on values that are not your own and start standing up for yourself. It is a rational safeguard if your initial response is to avoid “rocking the boat.” But consider the resounding impact this first step can make for yourself and others.

Maya Angelou once said “each time a women stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” I challenge you; be brave enough to take that first step and stand up for yourself and what you believe it. I do not believe this will be easy, quite the contrary. I believe in you and the difference you can make. As I reflect upon a full career closing in on 20 years, I cannot convey strongly enough the influence that you have over those who are observing you without your knowledge. Think of it as the butterfly effect—one small change now can have an enormous rippling impact on the future. Every time you downplay a particularly difficult experience, you make it that much harder for those coming behind you who are experiencing a similar situation. Stop minimizing your challenges.

Next, be brave enough to stand up for others. You need to encourage each other. This will help break the cycle of feeling alone. It starts with one person pushing the preverbal boulder up the hill, but it takes a team to get it to the top. You can be that person who begins the boulder’s momentum. Oftentimes, struggles exist due to the majority not considering the perspective and needs of those that are not like-minded or have dissimilar experiences. It is natural and more comfortable for us to gravitate towards likeness and those who are similar to ourselves. Therefore, when you are able to help others, I urge you to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. You do not have to understand someone’s struggles or have experienced their challenges to make a difference of helping them excel.

Since this article is focused on women as a minority in the armed services, I offer you this third step to educating the force. We have reached a point where there are two or more of you, start finding your voice. Our issues are not highly guarded trade secrets that we pass from one women to the next. Take the opportunity to talk to members within your community about your concerns. Stand up in commander’s calls and speak about your experience to start normalizing these “female issues” as “our issues.” Start educating current and future leaders, both males and females alike. You will find that people want to help, but they do not understand the complexities, the unknowns, or perhaps misunderstood the real concern. Get smart on the topic and lead these conversations yourself.

From these three considerations I leave you with this: STOP HIDING IN THE DAMN BATHROOM, both in reality and symbolically! The Air Force outlined procedures and requirements to establish private, secure, and sanitary locations (not a bathroom) for the purpose of breastfeeding or expressing breast milk for our nursing mothers. The Air Force also outlined reasonable lactation breaks and a space in close proximity to their work location. Not only is this necessary for the member’s sense of inclusion and to continue to support nursing, but it is imperative to prevent conditions such as mastitis that can be very painful and cause high fevers. If the policy has changed, why am I still walking into bathrooms finding Airmen in stalls with their breast pumps? Culture does not change overnight or immediately following the instance a policy is written and published. Nor does it eliminate the negative parts of a culture that stigmatizes pregnancy. But dare I say it, do we as women bear some of this responsibility?

Every time a nursing mom does not ask for the space she is entitled to, she is telling the command team and her fellow Airmen that this is okay. She is saying that “my needs are less than those of other Airmen.” The desire to be a team player weighs on everyone and we all know that space and funds are tight. It may seem easier to decide to go to the bathroom, or to your car, or drive across to another building that might have some space, but this is at the expense of yourself, your own time, and the value we place upon you as an Airman. Represent the change you want for the younger Airmen that will follow in your footsteps, who are looking up to you right now. I promise you, there is an 18-year old future mom or supervisor that has observed your actions and internalizes them as unspoken direction that the bathroom is “good enough” for them. Your actions have taught them to keep their head down. If you are just starting out or if you are in a leadership position, I challenge you to do the right thing and to stand up for yourself. Because the reality is, what you do today, is standing up for all of us tomorrow.