In the latest attempt to ape the fads of corporate America, the Pentagon is now promoting "Lean-In" groups to promote women in leadership roles. "Lean-In" is based on a book written by Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook. The Pentagon still hasn't figured out why more women are not in leadership roles and somehow hopes that having the sidebar "Lean-In" groups, the answer will magically appear.
Here is the tough truth that no one wants to admit, the military is the most hostile environment to promote "gender equality"because at its core, the military is about killing people and breaking things. In order to excel in the military, you have to embrace this warrior ethos with a desire as Conan the Barbarian remarked, "See your enemies crushed before you".
Even in the modern 21st Century, the role of women as mothers is venerated throughout society including the West. The job of the military is odds with the role of mothers as nurturing, caring women who want to protect and raise their babies. To rise to the top ranks of the military for an American women means long periods away from her children and leading the children of other women into combat and even watching them die. These "Lean-In" groups will focus on glass-ceilings, sexism and the lack of representation "at the table". None of those groups will address the basic problem, most women still want to be moms even if there are serving in the military.
All you need to do is look at how many women in showbiz or professional sports give up their careers, or at least pause them, to start families. Women in the military are no different. Even the most ambitious, career-driven female NCO or officer still feels the need to start a family. Hidden in this most basic truth is the lie about "women make up 15 percent of the military" (article). Of those 15 percent, how women get out to be with their families? Even if the number is only 5 percent, you now have only women in 10 percent of the military available to serve long enough to become senior leaders. Attrit another 5 percent for other reasons (medical boards, career changes, disciplinary reasons, lack of upward mobility) and you see 5 percent (or probably less) are available to even make it to senior leader (O-7 or above).
The "Lean-In" groups, or whatever the next corporate fad happens to be, cannot escape this fact. Women are destined to be moms and a career in the military is often at odds with this. It also impacts fathers, however the larger number of men in the military tends to mask this phenomenon. Divorce also skews these numbers as most courts award custody of the children to the moms, allowing the dads to continue their career and forcing moms to often times get out of the military.
Now it is politically expedient to talk about opening all remaining combat roles (such as Rangers, combat controllers, pararescue, SEALs and force recon) to women. It still won't change the fact women are designed by biology and culture to be mothers. Women soldiers in Afghanistan often are called upon to enter Afghani homes as they are perceived as "maternal" and aren't likely to kill the children. Female cops serve the same role with children who are the victims of child abuse.
That's why female warriors find it so difficult to make it in the military. If they forego being mothers, they are not seen as "feminine" by their male counterparts. Look at the movie "Aliens", Private Vasquez was more of a bad ass then her male counterparts, so it fell to Ripley (who we already knew was a mom) to establish a bound with Newt. Even though many think of Ripley as a bad ass as well, she was really driven to kicking alien ass in order to protect her adopted daughter Newt.
I'm not a sociologist so I'm not sure if it is even possible for a military organization to exist and function successfully that also embraces the role of women as mothers. And this just isn't some retired "guy" thinking this way, women also revolt at the thought of a women who would choose war over motherhood. Look at how Hillary Clinton is using her role as a "grandma" to soften her image. Choosing a career over motherhood is still a Hobson's choice for most women, often they themselves becoming their own worst critic.
Don't try to hide behind that propaganda of "Serving her country to protect her children" bullshit either. The demands of being away from home a year at a time rapidly dissuades even the most ardent female warrior of this notion (men too for that matter). Missing birthdays, the first day of school, the last day of class, graduations, games, or just being home with your kids takes a lot of any troop but especially those that are also moms.
We need a much more frank and tough discussion about the role of women not just in the military but society as well instead of trying the latest corporate fad. We should always value the role of moms and if we do, that means by default we have to accept fewer women will want to continue with their careers. By extension, that means fewer women in senior leadership roles. To change that means we have to devalue the role of moms in our society and then the question becomes, are we will ready to do that?