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Evolution of Gender Integration in the DON

Summary of Five Analytical Efforts for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Financial Management and Comptroller)
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The Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Financial Management and Comptroller) (ASN(FM&C)) sponsored a multi-pronged effort to explore the effects of actual and potential personnel policy changes on Department of the Navy (DON) personnel inventories and budgets. A primary focus of the study was the impact of changes in the gender mix of personnel on retention and manning, and on the costs associated with maintaining the desired levels of each. The study addressed five specific questions related to gender, career outcomes, and costs:

  1. How does the cost-minimizing combination of accession and selective reenlistment bonus (SRB) policies vary as the gender mix of Navy enlisted accessions changes?
  2.  What are the drivers of gender differences in Navy post-bootcamp, pre-fleet enlisted attrition rates?
  3. What are the cost implications of gender differences in misbehavior among enlisted personnel in the Navy and the Marine Corps?
  4. How does the gender mix of enlisted and officer endstrength affect the demand for colocation in the Navy and the Marine Corps, and what is the effect on retention?
  5. How has the 2015 change in the maternity leave policy for uniformed personnel affected female reenlistment and manning in the Navy?
  6. This document synthesizes the results of the various efforts undertaken for the study in a cohesive way that creates a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. We used our own characterization of the DON’s gender integration evolution as an organizing structure.

The DON’s evolving approach to women in the force

We divided the years since the beginning of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) into three phases, each defined in terms of the level of female representation in the DON forces, as well as the laws and policies governing the nature of women’s participation in them, especially in combat roles. Movement through the three phases was determined by specific external events and prevailing social attitudes, as well as two overarching forces that tended to constrain evolutionary progress.

Evolutionary phases of gender integration

We call the first evolutionary phase the “early phase.” It runs from 1973 to 1993 and is primarily characterized by the complete formal prohibition on women serving in combat roles. During this phase, the question of whether and how women should serve in the military was seen more as a social and political issue than as an issue to be resolved analytically. The second evolutionary phase is called the “transitional phase.” It runs from 1994 to 2007 and is primarily characterized by the relaxation of some combat restrictions for women. Policy questions during this phase focused on how to accommodate women without harming readiness. Policy research focused on managing female representation and its costs, and emphasized monetary incentives as a key force management tool.

Finally, we labeled the third evolutionary phase the “modern phase.” Starting in 2008, it continues through the present. The modern phase is primarily characterized by the total relaxation of combat restrictions for women. Policy questions and research in this phase have, and are currently, focused on how to achieve complete gender integration, including how to create an inclusive environment.

Evolutionary constraints

The first evolutionary constraint is cognitive bias in decision-making, which has tended to limit both the questions asked and the data used to assess the costs and benefits of increasing women’s presence in the DON’s active duty forces. The second is the emphasis on monetary incentives, which may fall short as a force management tool in the context of DON gender integration, especially when it comes to addressing gender gaps in retention. The strength of these constraints has gradually declined as the DON’s gender integration evolution has progressed.

Combined narrative

To summarize the study’s five analytical efforts, we characterized each according to how it aligns with the approaches associated with the transitional and modern phases of the DON’s gender integration evolution. We then grouped the efforts as follows: updating a transitional approach (Question #1), modern approaches that change the cognitive frame (Questions #2 and #3), and modern approaches that move beyond monetary incentives (Questions #4 and #5).

Updating a transitional approach: Question #1

Although the Navy has long used inventory project models (IPMs) for accession planning, none has been designed to aid in determining cost-minimizing combinations of accession and selective reenlistment bonus (SRB) strategies. To fill this gap and answer question #1, we created a prototype IPM and successfully demonstrated that personnel cost minimization can be made central to the IPM approach, and that jointly determining the optimal accession and SRB policies has the potential to achieve savings for the Navy. Viewed through the lens of the gender integration evolution, the effort also showed that, although we have associated IPMs with the transitional phase of the evolution, they remain an important personnel management tool, and that monetary incentives remain an important policy lever.

Changing the cognitive frame: Questions #2 and #3

Analytical approaches associated with the modern phase of gender integration can be characterized by their acknowledgment of—and in some cases, explicit challenge to—the evolutionary constraints. Questions #2 and #3 do both by adopting new underlying cognitive frames. Specifically, rather than taking lower female retention as given, question #2 assumes that the gender retention gap can be reduced with readiness-neutral policies. With this as a starting point, the analytical effort examined the determinants of post-bootcamp, pre-fleet losses for male and female Sailors, and found that the issue of higher female loss rates is not a general one, but is concentrated in a few highly technical ratings. The data also indicated that men and women attrite from these ratings for different reasons, which suggested next steps for research and subsequent policy formation. Question #3, in turn, switches the focus from the costs imposed by women to the costs imposed by men—specifically, the costs of higher rates of misbehavior. The analysis confirmed that male enlisted Sailors and Marines misbehave at higher rates than their female counterparts, and that this extra misbehavior imposes substantial costs. More generally, this analysis served as an example of how cognitive bias can lead to incomplete cost-benefit analyses of gender integration and may hinder effective and efficient use of personnel budgets.

Going beyond monetary incentives: Questions #4 and #5

To complete the gender integration evolution, the DON must also acknowledge the limitations of monetary incentives as a force management tool, and the DON has done this by offering nonmonetary benefits to eligible servicemembers. The analytical efforts that addressed questions #4 and #5 assessed the retention effects of two such policies: colocation for servicemembers who are married to other servicemembers and expanded maternity leave, respectively. The assessment of the colocation policy indicated that colocating same-service DON enlisted personnel is positively associated with reenlistment for both men and women, but the effect is greater for women. The assessment of the new maternity leave policy indicated that it has been positively associated with reenlistment rates for female Sailors and that the extra work weeks associated with the higher reenlistment rates more than offset the work weeks lost due to the longer leave. Both analyses indicate that non-monetary incentives can be effective and efficient policy tools for closing the retention gender gap.

Final thoughts

In addition to the recommendations associated with each analytical effort, we make two final recommendations for overcoming the evolutionary constraints to achieve true gender integration: DON policy-makers and analysts should make conscious efforts to avoid cognitive bias when framing policy options and research questions, and they should continue to think outside the box to identify innovative, non-monetary approaches to personnel management.

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DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A. Approved for public release: distribution unlimited.


  • Pages: 58
  • Document Number: DRM-2019-U-019962-Final
  • Publication Date: 4/30/2019
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