Enhancing Lateral Entry Initiatives in the U.S. Air Force to Increase Uniformed Senior Leader Diversity and Overall Innovation

Organizations can either grow leaders and cultivate innovation from within, or they must import human capital from the external market. There is evidence that human capital shortfalls exist within the U.S. Air Force in terms of both uniformed senior leader diversity and innovation. Regulatory sufficiency and benchmarked interest across the military services substantiate an increased level of effort in exploring and implementing lateral entry initiatives to mitigate such shortfalls.

The Department of the Air Force could benefit from using lateral entry programs for field grade officers and above to support the increasing demand in technological career fields — such as for senior-level cyber and space workforces. The talent that could be migrated into the service could also increase the diversity needed to grow and develop leaders, which, under current strength levels, has not been possible.

Although barriers and obstacles exist in implementing lateral entry initiatives beyond technical fields and levels of seniority, the benefits of both increasing the technological acumen where needed and diversifying the senior ranks will be worth the workforce analysis required to optimize the program. Some of the more-specific topics to be considered in pre-implementation strategy analysis include limitations on career fields, lateral entry into command or directorship opportunities, limitations on the level of seniority or senior positions, service commitments and obligations, transition of laterally entered senior officers, and benefits. This publication may have broader applicability across the military services — all of which are navigating how to best implement lateral entry programs.

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This work was conducted within the Workforce, Development, and Health Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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