Sara Salas, Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) Deputy Director of Equal Employment Opportunity, is pictured in her office in Building 5. Salas was recognized Sept. 5 with the Latina Style Inc. 2019 Distinguished Military Service Award for her work at the command and the local South Bay community. (U.S. Navy photo)

FRCSW Employee Recognized at Annual National Latina Symposium

Sara Salas, Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) Deputy Director of Equal Employment Opportunity, received the Latina Style Inc. 2019 Distinguished Military Service Award Sept. 5 during the 16th Annual National Latina Symposium in Arlington, Va.

The award recognizes female Defense Department active duty, reservists and civilians who have contributed to the mission of their respective commands, helped in creating opportunities that assist in the career development and advancement of Hispanic Americans, and represent the Hispanic community with honor and pride.

Salas was one of 12 recipients, and represented the Navy’s federal civilian employee category.

With a staff of four, Salas has managed the FRCSW Model EEO program since 2013. The Model EEO includes EEO complaints, alternative dispute resolution, reasonable accommodation and special emphasis programs, and diversity and inclusion programs.

Though all equally important, it is the latter that Salas finds the most challenging.

“This is a diverse command. It’s far more diverse, I would say, than any of the other NAVAIR activities,” she said. “One of the things I do is to look at the demographics and see how we fare in comparison to the local market labor force. For example, we have a higher percentage of African American males and a very higher number of Asian males than the San Diego labor force. We’re about at par with Hispanic/Latino males and other groups like Asian Pacific Islanders and Native American groups.”

Salas said that the female employment rate at the command is almost 14 percent, but the turnover rate in comparison to the participation rate of the total workforce is higher. One possible explanation may be found through examining the fields and grades many females occupy.

“Our administration pool, code 7.1, for example, is highly female. That particular field has a lot of GS 5, 7 and 9 billets that are not high-grade positions, so, many people leave for better opportunity. We want to determine is if there is something here at the command, like a policy, practice, or process in place that is limiting opportunities for females, or are they deciding on their own to seek opportunities. That’s called barrier analysis, which is determining if there is any impediment to equal opportunity.”

“It’s also looking at our leadership positions --- does our leadership reflect what our workforce looks like, and if not, are there any barriers to opportunity that are preventing any particular demographic from achieving that?”

Salas was quick to dispel the notion that the federal government uses a hiring quota system to achieve a diverse workforce in relationship to local demographics. Quotas, she said, are illegal; but the government does have a goal to reach a workforce where two percent of its employees are individuals with targeted disabilities like blindness, deafness, missing limbs, or intellectual disabilities.

To help employees reach their personal career goals, NAVAIR established Diversity Advisory Teams (DAT). There are seven DATs, each with four smaller teams to focus on retention, outreach, barrier analysis and removal, and advancement and development.

DATs are based upon federal programs and promote cultural awareness and understanding, as well.  

“The reason why these were created by the federal government is that they should be reflective of the nation that we serve. These were created to make opportunities available to people from different demographics,” Salas said. “We don’t say that we have to hire a particular person --- but we want to make sure the playing field is level so there are no barriers that would prevent any particular group from attaining employment.”

Salas’ work in ensuring standards of equality and opportunity extends well beyond her employment with FRCSW. Prior to joining the federal civil service in 2005, she spent 15 years working for Southwestern College where she held a number of positions including that as an Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS)/Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education (CARE) technician.

EOPS/CARE are retention-oriented programs for students who are educationally and economically disadvantaged.

Today, she is a member of MANA de San Diego, a nonprofit national Latina organization that strives to develop empowerment and leadership for Latinas through education and community service.  

One MANA program, the Hermanitas (Little Sisters) Program, holds a particular fondness to Salas because of her mother’s involvement.

“The Hermanitas Program started in San Diego in the late 1980s and my mom was one of the early Big Sisters for the program, so I’ve always been involved in it,” she said.

“It started with young girls from Sherman Heights and Logan Heights, from low-income families. They were paired with mentors and professional women who would attend outreach and educational events with them. Different workshops and cultural events like opera or the ballet --- things they ordinarily would have never attended. They taught them about careers, and really helped them with their education.”

“The current president was in the program at 12 years-old and her mom was a single mother in Sherman Heights. Her mentor really helped her as she ended up with a scholarship to the University of Southern California. Some of my colleagues from the Navy have joined Mana and a few of them have become mentors,” she said.

Salas is currently working with MANA to develop a speakers bureau.

In addition to MANA, and to improve her community, Salas is a member of the South Bay Forum, a grassroots organization whose members assess issues like homelessness and environmental problems to devise potential solutions.

“San Ysidro has a very high rate of air pollution because of the cars idling on the border, and there’s also a high rate of childhood asthma. The Sweetwater Union High School District has a huge budget deficit and the news reported that kids were walking six miles to San Ysidro High School because they cut all of the bus routes,” Salas said.

“Why is this kid walking through canyons to get to school? Where’s the money? Our goal is advocacy --- reaching out to elected officials and policy makers to develop a program or model a program that’s already established, or work toward grants to address issues like these.”

As she continues to address the EEO needs of FRCSW and works to improve the future of her community, Salas is truly carrying on a family tradition that now spans three generations.

“About three or four years ago, a Department of the Navy EEO decision in the 1980s came back to us referencing a `Casillas.’ I decided to look this up, and sure enough, I found that my uncle, Joe David Casillas had been the EEO deputy here,” she said.

Salas’ maternal grandfather’s family included seven brothers, all of whom were veterans of either World War II, the Korean Conflict or the Vietnam War. Five of the brothers, including her grandfather, worked for and retired from, the Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF), today’s FRCSW.

“The first day I came to work here I felt a sense of pride. I never imagined that I would work where my family had worked. To me, this is a way to honor my family. I have come this far, and didn’t have to experience the struggles they had. It wasn’t easy for them, they faced discrimination,” she said.

In addition to the Latina Style Inc. 2019 Distinguished Military Service Award, Salas has received two FRCSW Golden Wrench Awards and recognition for her work as a Navy Department certified mediator.

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