Friday, May 21, 2010

Workforce Integration

Commentary
Adeyemi Ogunade
SLRC Graduate Student

On April 29, 2010 the United States Navy announced its recent decision to allow female naval officers serve on submarines. The Secretary of Defense, in February officially notified congress of his intent to change the policy regarding the assignment of women to submarines. Prior to now females were precluded from assignments on missile submarines. Following the repeal of the combat exclusion law in 1994, civil and women’s rights groups within the military have pushed for increased representation in key areas of the navy. Rear Adm. Barry Bruner pointed out that “the percentage of women graduating with technically-based degrees in our country has risen to the point that females now make up 51 percent of the total talent pool of young Americans we can recruit to enter our submarine force in the nuclear-trained officer community.” This makes it necessary to establish policies targeted at not only recruiting and selecting the best female candidates, but also ensuring they are properly integrated into a predominantly male work force.

Wives of male sub sailors have vehemently protested against the new policy, raising concerns over the possibility of sexual infidelity, harassment and favoritism. They aver that the cramped spaces within submarines and lengthy tours of duty that span 90 days at a stretch leave their spouses susceptible to infidelity. These concerns may appear trivial on the surface, but have the propensity to seriously hamper productivity and morale of the entire submarine crew.

The Navy’s response to these concerns has been flippant at best. Commander Kevin Byrne of the USS Alaska is of the opinion that “integrating women on board is nothing new to us. Women have been getting under way on submarines for overnight embarks and qualifications, familiarization, and sea trials embarks for week-long periods. So having women permanently established on board is not a major adjustment to the crew.” Is having a woman aboard a ship over night or for a week long period sufficient to determine the effects of the constant presence of females on submarines? Is offering female only accommodation within subs and mounting female signs on shower heads sufficient to prevent harassment in its nuanced forms? Is the existence of policies like “zero tolerance” policy, “red light, green light rule” sufficient to change ingrained attitudes and perception of male officers and non-commissioned crew men who may display antagonism towards change?

The infamous “Tail hook” scandal of 1991 in which 83 service women were assaulted is a poignant reminder of the magnitude of harm that could arise from hasty decisions and slip-shod planning. Failure to consider the strategic effects of this decision and head off possible behavioral problems with clear policies could have a deleterious effect on morale aboard submarines far removed from terrestrial chain of command. Unprofessional behaviors occasioned by lack of training, will not only destroy trust and confidence among shipmates but also erode unit cohesion and combat readiness. Contrary to prevailing belief, providing technical training for female officers aboard submarines is not enough to ensure integration. It is imperative the Navy brass ensures all male sub sailors, from officers to rank and file are retrained in gender sensitivity and harassment policy to ensure seamless integration. Setting up a training program for all male sub sailors that would propagate appropriate conduct is necessary to ensure integration. It is trite to assert that the absence of women over the years would have lead to an atrophy of social and interpersonal skills necessary to navigate a heterosexual work environment. The paucity of such skills, lack of training in appropriate conduct coupled with the sudden inclusion of women in 2012 would produce a conflagration of legal, ethical and behavioral problems that would seriously hamper national security. Failure to retrain male sub sailor in the appropriate conduct and existing navy harassment policies would only leave room for a repeat of egregious abuse. Dictum sapient sat est.

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