Equal Opportunity Program

In the spirit of, and in service to the Army’s mission and vision, the Equal Opportunity Program exists “to ensure fair treatment for military personnel, family members and civilians without regard to race, color, gender, religion, age, disability or national origin,” (United States Army, 2014, p. 1). Because of the destructive power of discrimination on organizational culture, the Equal Opportunity Program ensures the fulfillment of organizational objectives via the creation of a sustainable, effective environment in which personnel flourish and contribute to departmental missions and goals. The Equal Opportunity Program includes several components, such as training, classes, materials, the establishment of a special harassment hotline, and procedures for reporting and prosecuting violations of ethical or behavioral codes related to equal opportunity comportment.

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The reasons behind the Equal Opportunity Program are expressly stated on the Army’s website and include an admission and embrace of the heterogeneity of its personnel pool: which amounts to one and a half million individuals (United States Army, 2014). A “strategy for human capital,” equal opportunity is employed as a rational means of remaining competitive in terms of its outputs, and also in terms of its human resource strategies. Army senior leaders are entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining equal opportunity rights within their divisions or departments.

An interview with an Army Colonel about the Equal Opportunity Program highlights the identifiable challenges, issues and dynamics associated with the program. The interview also helps to clarify the contextual variables impacting the environment. Applying organizational metaphors and exploring alternative theories will also help develop an informed action plan for resolving current challenges. Colonel S serves in a position of leadership, and therefore has direct connection to the Equal Opportunity Program. At least every week, some issue related to diversity or ethics arises.

Identifiable Challenges, Issues, Dynamics

The greatest challenge is the very nature of diversity: complexity. With so many people, it becomes impossible to come up with a set of rules and regulations that can possibly cover every single situation with all the many constraints and variables involved. Discrimination does not always occur in overt ways, and nor does harassment. Dishonesty, deceit, and other disturbances to workgroup harmony most often occur in subtle and imperceptible ways, even to those who are most at risk for victimization.

What the Equal Opportunity Program provides is a set of overarching values and ethics that permeates all interactions and behaviors within every single unit, team, or department. Yet the act of constructing those shared values requires the participation of all personnel. Any time someone perceives an infraction or affront, however seemingly small, that issue or complaint needs to be brought to the surface and dealt with immediately and in accordance with Army policy. By dealing with each issue as it arises in a systematic way, it is less likely that more serious affronts to equal opportunity will erupt. Major infractions, such as those involving hate speech or violent behavior, are not the problem. The problem is the many smaller “micro-aggressions” that occur day in and day out. What’s more, some personnel do not even realize that they have internalized the negativity, having come to believe that they are inferior or that they somehow deserve the treatment they receive from others. One of the greatest challenges to the Equal Opportunity Program and the ideal functioning of Army departments is therefore fought in the battleground of each individual mind.

Given this, the leader plays a crucial role. The leader needs to remain vigilant at all times, alert and sensitive to ethical infractions, however minor. The leader needs to cultivate deep empathy, and express that empathy in overt acts that empower individuals to stand up for themselves and speak out against injustices. At the very least, the leader needs to initiate dialogue. Even when a dialogue seems disruptive or creates discomfort within a group, only by working through those knots can any progress be made. The leader also sets a personal standard by reaching out to his or her mentors and superiors for guidance, feedback, and advice as to how to proceed.

The Environment

Daft (2016) discusses the organizational design elements in an open system, first positing the division between internal and external environments and then discussing the interorganizational relationships that exist. The Army “is a vast organization with a global presence,” (United States Army, 2014, p. 1). To design an organization for the international environment, one that is effective in its presence on the global stage, Army leaders need to consider the internal as well as the external environmental factors impacting human resource management. The external and internal environments are ripe with potential, opportunities to build structures, agencies, and policies that promote the organization’s highest ideals. Those ideals parallel the Army’s values: “Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage,” (“The Army Values,” n.d., p. 1). Environmental threats need to be dealt with in accordance with those values.

Organizational Metaphors and Theories

Morgan (2006) offers some helpful metaphors for framing the Equal Opportunity Program. While it might seem tempting to use the political systems metaphor or the instruments of domination metaphor for the Army, the framework that best applies to the Equal Opportunity Program is the organization as culture metaphor. Morgan (2006) describes large organizations as being distinct cultures, showing how within the larger culture there exists subcultural units. Recognizing these facts about the organization can help clarify some of the issues involved during an ethical conundrum or conflict.

The cultural metaphor works well under certain conditions. For one, it works when the values of each subculture can be effectively aligned with those of the greater organizational culture. If there is a misalignment between a subculture’s values and the organization’s values as a whole, then conflict ensues. The conflict could become insurmountable if the subculture is large or powerful. A perfect example would be the subculture of gender. The values inherent in maintaining a masculine identity, for example, need to become more closely aligned with the values of Equal Opportunity—which do in fact include several of the Army values such as loyalty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

Second, the cultural metaphor works well if there are overarching narratives and stories that can be used to solidify a shared cultural identity. The Army already has these metaphorical structures built into its very existence by nature of its being an extension of the story of America. While stories and the legendary leaders and events associated with them are one of the strengths of the cultural paradigm, the disadvantage of this approach is that any time an individual or an entire subculture does not understand or align with the story, it becomes difficult if not impossible to find solutions to problems. When it comes to the problem of unresolved micro-aggressions, the leader of the organization needs to be able to frame every small situation using the cultural artifacts that are available and relevant.

Alternative Explanations and Theories

Schein (1992) outlines three levels of culture in an organization: artifacts, espoused beliefs and values, and also the basic underlying assumptions. Artifacts include the “visible and feelable structures and processes,” which are fairly easy to discuss, as well as the “observed behavior” that is being called into question (Schein, 1992, p. 24). Unfortunately, some behaviors are difficult to recognize or “decipher,” making it challenging to have discussions that can lead to effective resolutions (Schein, 1992, p. 24). The espoused values and beliefs of the organization are also fairly apparent and therefore easy to discuss in light of the Equal Opportunity Program. When behaviors are rationalized for whatever reason, there is a failed opportunity for growth and resolution. The leader needs to avoid any attempts at rationalizing unjustifiable behavior—and avoid condoning such attempts at justification too.

Action Plan for Resolving Challenges

The action plan for resolving the current challenges in implementing the Equal Opportunity Program on a daily basis within the Army begins with leadership. It requires that military leaders regularly discuss Equal Opportunity Program matters openly through regularly scheduled meetings and progress reports. The anonymous hotline is a tremendous boon in this situation, and needs to be more effectively utilized. All personnel need to be reminded regularly of its existence, so that infractions are reported in a responsible manner. The standards and stakes have to be raised. Rather than presenting Equal Opportunity objectives as a chore, the entire program needs to be reframed as something that benefits all members of the Army—and therefore all members of the society.


“The Army Values,” (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.army.mil/values/

Daft, R. L. (2016). Organization Theory & Design (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Morgan, G. (2006). Images of organization. Sage Publications, Inc

Schein, E. H. (1992). Organizational Culture and Leadership. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

United States Army (2014). Army equal opportunity program. Retrieved from: https://www.army.mil/standto/archive_2014-03-21/