On November 12, 2014, the United States Marine Corps announced that it would be opening thousands of new positions to female Marine members, a decision which represents a huge leap forward in terms of gender equality within the military, yet also remains a decision fraught with controversy.
Female Marine Corps officials in corporal ranks and above, are now eligible to apply to 2600 previously closed positions in both active and reserve units, as part of the Marine Corps’ experimental training for the integration of women in combat roles. This initiative is spearheaded by the Pentagon, which aims to open all military positions to women by 2016.
In preparation for this transition, the Marine Corps’ Force Innovation Office has developed new training techniques entitled “commander’s tool kit” consisting of six classes designed to address various topics such as unconscious biases and organizational change.
Major Martha Sullivan, assistant operations officer, explained that the proposed courses will consist of discussion guides and suggested readings, and will be taught at the unit commanders’ discretion, stating that “studies have shown when you make this type of training mandatory, Marines don’t necessarily take it as openly as they would as if it were optional and used at their own discretion.” The training will also consist of interactive exercises and scenarios. One such exercises, includes unconscious bias training, in which Marines will be given a resume which includes feminine pronouns, and the officers will have to explain what they think about the individual described in the scenario.
Maj. Sullivan explained that the classes are not designed to focus only on gender integration, but are set up to address a wide range of issues, stating “all of these topics have to do with leadership and the way Marine Corps leaders guide and mentor all of their Marines, not just women.”
Marine Corps officials will also be conducting a survey for all new unit members to get their perspectives on the various topics relating to unit cohesion and morale readiness. The results of the survey will be used as a form of recommendation to the Department of Defence, regarding gender integration in combat units, and will also assist the understanding of the Force Innovation Office members, on how such changes are perceived by the each unit.
As the military prepares to open new positions to women in combat roles, it is extremely important that it not overlook important issues such as unconscious gender bias. The unconscious gender bias training tool will push individuals to question and recognize their own biases, enabling a smooth transition towards a more gender-neutral working environment.
By: Hannah Styffe