Gender Issues:

Information to Assess Servicemembers' Perceptions of Gender Inequities Is Incomplete

NSIAD-99-27: Published: Nov 18, 1998. Publicly Released: Nov 18, 1998.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO conducted a study on inequalities or perceptions of inequalities in the treatment of men and women in the armed forces, focusing on: (1) perceptions of gender inequities found in various surveys and studies of male and female servicemembers; and (2) what available data and studies reveal about those perceptions.

GAO noted that: (1) some perceptions of inequality in the area of career opportunities involve various local assignment policies and practices established by unit commanders; (2) some women have raised concerns about being assigned to clerical and administrative positions instead of positions requiring the technical skills in which they were trained; (3) some women believe that they are being denied opportunities to serve in positions that are legally open to them because of perceived unjustified prerequisite requirements for a certain kind of experience that is closed to women; (4) however, no existing studies show the extent to which such practices take place or are inequitable; (5) researchers have found perceptions among some men and women that the Department of Defense's (DOD) policy restricting women from occupations and units involved in direct ground combat affects their opportunities for promotions and career advancement; (6) no study was found that specifically addressed whether the ground combat exclusion policy has an inequitable impact on the career opportunities of men and women; (7) consequently, GAO examined the data submitted by the services as part of their annual equal opportunity assessments, and its analysis showed that the military selected men and women for promotion at basically similar rates over 80 percent of the time and selected men and women for key assignments and professional military education at similar rates approximately half of the time; (8) in those cases where the selection rates differed, no clear pattern of a systematic advantage to either gender emerged; (9) a RAND study stated that many servicemembers believe that fitness standards are a measure of one's ability to perform in a combat environment, and that lower fitness standards for women amounts to a double standard; (10) however, the physical fitness program is intended only to maintain the general fitness and health of military members and fitness testing is not aimed at assessing the capability to perform specific missions or military jobs; (11) DOD officials and experts agree that it is appropriate to adjust the standards for physiological differences among servicemembers by age and gender; and (12) many military women have also expressed concerns about the fairness of the services' body fat standards.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of the Secretary of Defense funded a research study to be conducted by RAND Corporation. RAND published its study, "The Status of Gender Integration In the Military," in August 2002. The study focuses on perception of gender inequities in position prerequisites and skill utilization.

    Recommendation: To provide DOD and service officials with information to address perceptions of gender inequities in position prerequisites and skill utilization, the Secretary of Defense should direct the services to assess whether requirements for skill or specialties that are presently closed to women or have only recently been opened to women are being inappropriately used as prerequisites for positions that are otherwise open to women.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of the Secretary of Defense funded a research study to be conducted by RAND Corporation. RAND published its report, "The Status of Gender Inequities In the Military," in August 2002. The report focuses on the perception of gender inequities in position prerequisites and skill utilization.

    Recommendation: To provide DOD and service officials with information to address perceptions of gender inequities in position prerequisites and skill utilization, the Secretary of Defense should direct the services to assess whether men or women are receiving an equal opportunity to work within the area of their military specialties.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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