Building a Culture of Inclusion: A Personal Perspective from Command Master Chief Joseph Fahrney

U.S. Naval War College

Newport, R.I. - Sharing his wealth of knowledge and passion for organizational culture and inclusion, Command Master Chief Joseph Fahrney issued his personal perspective on command culture stating that “diversity without a culture of inclusion is hypocritical, wasteful and dangerous.” The lecture, which took place on February 21, was part of the Naval War College’s (NWC) Issues in National Security (INS) lecture series designed to share a portion of the college’s academic experience with a wider audience interested in NWC national security lectures and can be viewed here.

Fahrney’s lecture detailed the leader's obligation to create a culture of inclusion and the conceptual and practical application of key enablers of an inclusive culture. His presentation drew heavily on the literature of Jennifer Brown and Ijeoma Oluo to explore the obligation of leaders to set the conditions for organizations to thrive in both competency and control of the organization's epistemology of cultures.

“The most important thing to ask in relation to an inclusive culture,” posed Fahrney to the audience, “is what’s going on in our organization and what are we going to do about it? Further, what is our institutional personality or culture like, and what do the most familiar patterns of what we do and how we act say about what we think, believe or espouse?”

A highly qualified expert (HQE) in all areas of command climate, culture, character and leader development, Fahrney has over 32 years of active duty and operational experience with the Navy and educational degrees that informed lecture attendees of the importance of leaders establishing a healthy, developmental, and inclusive culture within an organization that goes beyond simply being diverse. For diversity is an invitation to the company party, but inclusion is an invitation to actually dance. In his address, Fahrney delved into the criteria for establishing a successful organizational culture as well as barriers to culture typically encountered when investigating that process.

“Imagine what it would be like if people joined an organization knowing that they belonged, that they did not have to subjugate parts of themselves to obtain group identity,” said Fahrney. “If companies continue to marginalize people based on those biases, they will not attract or retain the best and fully qualified [employees] in their organizations.”

Fahrney stressed the importance of discovering the pathologies that impede true connectedness between leadership and subordinates and thwart an individual’s growth beyond basic expectations. For him, critically assessing whether the most familiar patterns of leadership actions align with the organization’s stated values is incredibly important. And that is best achieved with the help of trusted agents who can offer the most candid accounts of culture and climate as they experience it. These agents must be secured and sustained and their role as trusted agents mutually understood and respected as well as protected.

“Biases are not always harmful, but staunch, inexorable beliefs are,” he continued. “They thwart conversations and organizational progress by driving a wedge between individuals that can be intractable if there is no concept of, or regard for, the damage these underlying beliefs and biases instill. Individuals bring subconscious biases to the table by virtue of being Ed.D.s, Ph.D.s, surface warfare officers, helicopter pilots, international students, domestic students, etc. How they wield them is the issue.”

More information on the Navy’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program can be found here.

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Leisa Premdas, U.S. Naval War College Public Affairs
March 20, 2023

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