A Timely Call to Action: Social Injustice

Case Study 6 min
Learn how the U.S. Air Force employed a timely call to action that affected real change within the culture of their organization.

While civil unrest and protests stretched across the globe in the wake of George Floyd's death in 2020, leaders within the U.S. Air Force refused to sit by and wait for change to occur. They swiftly rose up and demanded it by collectively calling for action.

A call to action (CTA) is a common tactic of persuasive communication intended to elicit a response from the target audience. It gives the audience a reason to make a change. In public affairs, this translates to what you want your audience to feel or how you want them to act or behave. A communication plan aligned with the commander's intent will fail if there is no clearly defined call to action for your stakeholders. For any communication, you must begin with your end goal in mind, which is what change you want to bring about or achieve. Accomplishing your end goal is easier when stakeholders have a set of concrete tasks, they are motivated and able to carry out.

The U.S. Air Force’s call to action did exactly that.

They created a targeted communication plan.

The Air Force's communication plan targeted each of the four parts that comprise a call to action:

  1. Informing
  2. Persuading
  3. Educating
  4. Activating

They prioritized timeliness.

Commander's intent drives everything in public affairs. In this situation, Air Force leadership wanted to act quickly by putting out statements on racism, establishing the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and holding difficult conversations with their troops.

Message to Airmen. Join CSAF @GenDaveGoldfein and @cmsaf18 in a conversation about race, the Air Force and acknowledging change that we must achieve.U.S. Air Force via Twitter, June 2, 2020

They researched their target audience.

Air Force leaders brought in experts to facilitate difficult discussions with their troops, which helped them better understand their audience and what they would respond to. It also demonstrated that they were truly invested in creating a transformation and not just throwing out talking points.

Explore a timeline of the major steps the U.S. Air Force took to stay on track with their plan, communicate with their audiences and achieve the results they sought.*

A Timely Call to Action: Social Injustice

Navigate the timeline by selecting points of information.

May 26, 2020
Civil Unrest as People Protest Racial Injustice

George Floyd's death sparks global unrest and social injustice gatherings and protests across the U.S. and abroad. The protesting outcry is a Call to Action to eliminate social injustices.


Jun 2, 2020
Air Force Makes Public Statement

Air Force Leaders, Chief of Staff General David Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, make a public statement about diversity and inclusion.


Jun 2, 2020
USAF Leadership Hosts Livestream Conversation

CSAF Goldfein and CMSAF Wright meet virtually with Airmen for two hours, hosting a Dialogue on Race, to discuss the way forward in the service with regard to racial inequality.


Jun 9, 2020
USAF Establishes Diversity & Inclusion Task Force

The Department of the Air Force establishes the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to address the issue of racial, ethnic and other demographic disparities and their impact on the forces.


Jun 20, 2020
Guest Expert Discusses Grief, Race and COVID

CMSAF Wright speaks with grief and loss expert Dr. David Kessler about grief, race and COVID on Facebook live.


Jun 23, 2020
Guest Expert Speaks On Race, Shame and Vulnerability

CMSAF Wright speaks with professor Brené Brown about race, shame and vulnerability on Facebook live.


Jul 8, 2020
Changes Put in Place in USAF

The first changes within the Air Force resulting from the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force are put in place:

Scholarship opportunities increased for almost 300 current and future ROTC cadets attending historically Black colleges or universities, or institutions serving Hispanic students.

Certain rules on dress and appearance were revised to remove subjective language, such as “faddish” and wording that could disadvantage people of color based on their complexion, allowing men to wear their hair parted, whether cut, clipped or shaved, allowing name tapes to include diacritical accents to help with pronunciation and allowing Airmen to get a five-year shaving waiver for a pseudofolliculitis barbae diagnosis, instead of requiring an annual update or making people shave when they move to a new duty location.

Learn more about the changes at Air Force Times and Air Force Magazine.


Jul 15, 2020
Pentagon Selects Leader of Diversity & Inclusion Board

The Pentagon identifies Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett to lead the DoD Board on Diversity and Inclusion, focusing on diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity and addressing bias within the military.


Jul 17, 2020
USAF Publishes Resources for Airmen

The USAF publishes the Diversity & Inclusion Resource List for Airmen and Space Professionals for use in courageous conversations about race, unconscious bias and systemic prejudices. Resources include videos, books and TED talks.


Jul 27, 2020
Board Accomplishes Changes

The Diversity and Inclusion Board accomplishes the following changes:

1. Partnering to increase awareness of Air and Space Force opportunities

2. Ensuring a public presence that showcases all Air and Space Professionals

3. Increasing scholarship opportunities for ROTC cadets attending historically Black colleges or universities, or institutions serving Hispanic students

4. Revising dress and appearance regulations

5. Improving shaving waiver procedures

6. Training in Diversity, Inclusion and Unconscious Bias


Sep 16, 2020
Launch of Office of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging

The Air Force's Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, established June 9 to investigate the impact of demographic-related disparities on USAF and the Space Force, will transition into a new office dedicated to cultivating these qualities across both services.


Dec 22, 2020
USAF Publishes Report

The Air Force publishes its Racial Disparity Report. CSAF General Charles Brown and CSO General John Raymond conduct a Town Hall to discuss the findings.


Jan 13, 2021
CMSAF Conducts Virtual Town Hall

CMSAF Joanne Bass conducts a Town Hall called: A Conversation about Culture featured on Facebook live.


Lessons Learned

Instead of merely talking about a situation, the U.S. Air Force led by example and took immediate action that motivated others to follow suit. This created the change in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors they wanted to see.

They served as a model to emulate when leadership promptly took a firm stand against racial injustice. They issued public statements, established a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, led town hall meetings and brought in experts to speak candidly on tough topics such as grief, race, shame and vulnerability.

Governmental organizations are not known for quick change, but their efforts produced almost immediate and tangible results:

  • Increased ROTC scholarship opportunities for minorities
  • Revised rules on dress and appearance
  • Lengthened shaving waivers most often used by Black Airmen
  • Produced a training video on unconscious bias

To really see a difference, everyone—from leadership on down—took a hard stance that ultimately led to fulfilling the commander's intent. They accomplished their mission by inspiring their stakeholders to take action to help change the very culture within the organization.

*Note: Not all events were included in the timeline. This timeline does not reflect that the hard discussions about social injustice or attempts by the USAF and DoD to eliminate non-inclusive language throughout the military are still continuing. The Diversity and Inclusion Board is also still meeting and discussing ongoing issues and ways to expand to meet demands.

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