EDLP704f2f Blog Post 5 EWG: Because of Sex

As a career US Coast Guard officer, and as a future leader of military training performance improvement, one of my most important goals was and will be gender equity and equality. Although U.S. military gender equality policy has made great progress in the last decade, there are still significant dynamics that need to be addressed, including a long history of gender separatism, cultural barriers, and the uncertainty of how to take advantage of gender differences while ensuring equity in the opportunity to serve.

In 2015, the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum directing “the Secretaries of the Military Departments and Chiefs of the Military Services to provide their final, detailed implementation plans” to open “all military occupational specialties, career fields, and branches for accession by women.” This directive put an end to official gender exclusion, but it did not put an immediate end to gender inequity. For example, as late as 2020 the U.S. Marine Corps still had not gender integrated basic training. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act required the Marine Corps to complete gender integration of basic training at the San Diego facility within eight years, slightly behind the 2019 NDAA-required five-year integration of the Parris Island, NC facility. These culture shifts don’t, and won’t, happen overnight.

My plan for using my Ed.D. degree (and, more importantly, the knowledge that it implies) is to assist military education and training organizations improve their performance. The improved performance of education and training organizations will, in turn, improve the performance of the military individuals and teams they educate and train. While it is comparatively easy to envision gender equity in the intellectual and non-physical management tasks that are crucial to military organizations, I do not believe the same can be said when it comes to the physical skills and tasks associated with warfare. Like so many other things in organizational life, the change must start with leadership. Directives such as the 2015 SecDef Memo are enormously important, but the devil is in the details. Millennia of male-dominated military culture skews the environment toward an assumption that men are better warriors and concessions will probably need to be made for women. A prime example is the set of issues surrounding physical fitness testing. Each military service has its own physical fitness standards, and there has been significant progress toward gender-neutral standards over the past few years. But a large part of what I want to learn is whether the standards measure fitness to ensure health, or fitness for performing required Service tasks.

For much of the time since women have been participating in military training, at least since WWII, there have been separate physical fitness standards for men and women. Similar to the Title VII concerns with pregnant women in the workforce, separate standards can breed an attitude of either inferiority or a misplaced need to protect, neither of which are productive in a military environment. The question remains, how do we, as a nation and in our military organizations, reconcile the simultaneous goals of gender equity and military readiness? There is a growing body of evidence that these goals are not exclusive, including lessons learned from other physical occupations such as law enforcement and firefighting, as well as from within our own military and militaries around the world that have cultures more inclined toward gender equity. In other words, I want to learn why 42 or 71 pushups indicate universal fitness (for what?), or why a two-mile run rather than a 1.5- or 20-mile run says a soldier is ready. Also, I want to learn about what I call the “chicken and egg” issues such as, is the USMC ruck weight standard based on what most (male) Marines can carry, therefore that’s a good weight to carry into battle, or are there studies that say a Marine must be able to carry a X-lb ruck in order to assure military superiority? Likewise, are physical standards based on an acceptable overall training success percentage, or are they based on objective, non-gender-biased military task analyses?

I believe the real military gender equity vision involves a culture shift toward readiness standards that truly reflect non-biased performance needs, as well as a to-the-core belief that we can take advantage of and celebrate gender diversity. While it may be true that the average male can heft a heavier ruck, there is evidence that the average woman can better deal with endurance-related issues. How do we harness both of those strengths without marginalizing either? Finally, military activities are not all about either strength or endurance; arguably the most important military activity is problem-solving, and there is evidence that the sexes can have different problem solving strengths. Let’s develop military education and training organizations that foster a culture to eliminate counterproductive discrimination and reinforce the understanding of performance-improving use of diverse strengths

One Reply to “EDLP704f2f Blog Post 5 EWG: Because of Sex”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Ed. I knew nothing about military readiness assessments. It sure sounds like there’s a lot of work done to make the process more equitable, and I am glad you are looking to get your hands messy in doing that work.

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