Female airmen who give birth now have up to a year to decide whether they want to stay in the Air Force, under a new policy that went into effect Wednesday.

The Air Force Personnel Center said in a Thursday release that the change is part of the latest slate of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Previously, pregnant airmen had to separate before childbirth if they wanted to leave the Air Force, the release said.

AFPC said this will give new mothers time to adjust and figure out if they want to continue to balance their military career with their family needs. And new parents can use the MyVector online mentoring system to find other airmen who are also parents and get their help and advice on how to balance work and family.

"Our country has a natural advantage in our incredibly diverse population," said Daniel Sitterly, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs. "We just need to maximize it. This is another initiative which allows airmen flexibility in making decisions for their careers, their families and their futures."

New mothers who decide to leave must apply for separation on the virtual Military Personnel Flight system within 12 months of giving birth, and their date of separation must be set for no more than 12 months after applying.

The policy applies for active duty, National Guard or Air Force Reserve mothers who gave birth on or after April 26. New parents who have recently adopted are not eligible for this separation.

In addition, the policy for pregnant airmen to separate before giving birth will remain in place and unchanged, and they will continue to be able to leave the Air Force with a separation date of between 30 and 90 days before their projected delivery date.

"To succeed in meeting current and future mission requirements, the Air Force relies on access to the best talent our nation has to offer," Sitterly said. "To compete for that talent in the future, we must place consistent emphasis on diversity and inclusion in order to attract and retain talent."

The Air Force also on Tuesday announced it had finalized implementation plans for the latest slate of diversity initiatives. In addition to the change to the separation policy for new mothers, the Air Force's new diversity policies include the following changes:

  • Require at least one qualified, diverse airman is included in the slate of candidates considered for military developmental positions, such as executive officer, aide de camp, military assistant, senior enlisted adviser, career field manager and commander's action group chief. This policy, which will go into effect in May, does not set any hiring requirements. The Air Force wants, "to the extent practicable," slates to include candidates with more than one characteristic of diversity, including race, ethnicity, age, gender, personal life experiences, geographic background, socioeconomic background, cultural knowledge, educational background, work background, language abilities, physical abilities, or philosophical or spiritual perspectives.
  • Ensure development teams and command screening boards — which identify developmental opportunities for officers, enlisted and civilians and find colonels who are good candidates for wing and group command — are made up of diverse panelists. This went into effect in April.
  • Set up a Human Capital Analytics Office by October to help the Air Force make recruiting and retention decisions based on data.
  • Beginning in fiscal 2018, provide new tools and resources to recruiters that will help them spread out to new geographic communities to find recruits. This will include technology such as Internet-enabled tablets and smart phones, data analytic tools that allow recruiters to micro-target diverse communities likely to produce recruits, and databases that can be shared between various recruiting components. The Air Force also wants to increase the diversity of its recruiting force.
  • Increase funding for Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarships and college internships so new officers come from a more diverse geographic and career background, and encourage women and minorities to serve in career fields that now lack diversity.
  • Cut red tape when providing accommodations for people with disabilities. Currently, funding requests for reasonable accommodations often aren't budgeted by the unit and must be sent up to the major command or higher headquarters for approval, which slows the process down. The Air Force has set up a new funding code that will identify all unit-level requests for accommodations and speed up approval.
  • Provide senior leaders, career field managers, development team members, and other supervisors training on identifying and mitigating unconscious bias before they conduct performance evaluations, at least once per year.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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