Yup, it’s that time again…in between “bring back the battleships” and the next round of “USN buy diesel subs” is the “women on subs yes or no” issue. Looks like Vigilis is filling out the check in the block for the schedule this time, quoting such luminaries as Phyllis Schlafly and a couple of people arguing the same arguments we heard last time about “upper body strength” and other such things.
Ohbytheway the Army these days…never mind.
You want my two cents? Didn’t think so.
Instead let me talk about how to do it right if the force ever does it.
Leadership Is Key. If you wish to not look like a fool, lose a ship, or get people unnecessarily ruined due to stupidity, then you need leadership committed to doing it right. The first boats to have women need to have upper leadership (COB, XO, CO, Commodore) that clearly understand what they are about to do, what the stakes are, and exactly what will happen if they do it wrong. Hand pick to select out leaders who cannot adapt to the cultural change. Change routines to minimize possibilities of hurting junior people because a critical mass of drunks had no adult supervision or the A-gangers decided hazing was okay if it happened in lower level. Ensure those leaders have proper top cover, and enough families and retired senior enlisted/officer “on board with the initiative” to ensure that the wives don’t maintain themselves in Advanced Freakout Mode and the people who used to go down to the sea in ships don’t spend all their time opposing your every action (like many are doing now vis-a-vis women on subs).
You know as well as I do that when you put a different person in a homogenous culture there are pitfalls to avoid. You don’t want people to squawk about the upcoming change and get all panicky beforehand; you don’t want to allow accomplishments to be dismissed overall because of the special status, and you don’t want failures to be whitewashed because of that status. Fairness, and perceived fairness, to both the new guy and the old guys already there is a challenge to meet to be able to succeed.
Don’t Do It For Just One Time. Frankly the biggest problem from a Big Navy perspective isn’t going to be the hijinks or the medium-sized bumps on the road to success; it’s sustaining the personnel flows to the ships. If you want any underrepresented demographic on submarines then you need them to be able to join and interested in doing so.
How many officers on a submarine do not have engineering or hard science degrees? Not many. Submarining is applied engineering in a high risk environment; you need fire control techs and nukes and sonar techs and people who know which end of a soldering iron is the hot one. If you want to succeed you cannot do so by putting one woman aboard and declaring victory; you need enough women on board to not make it harder on the “special” person–and that means that you need lots of young women with that kind of background.
This demography imbalance is why, for instance, Admiral Bowman went to Howard University (an HBC, historically black college, with good engineering) with hat in hand and some new ideas. We can’t just recruit from the existing pool of folks and expect the skewed demographics of the engineering schools to magically return the proper checks in the quota block; if we want to adjust demographics we have to influence who goes to engineering schools. In this case it’d mean a lot more women engineers–which would also mean you’re directly competing against someone who needs the Numbers for their affirmative action report or their PR and would pay more to hire who you’d like to hire, all other things being equal.
Man The Boats Correctly. If you wish to succeed, like I said before, you cannot just put onesies-twosies on the boat. That will only result in those people being “special” and either appearing to be treated special, or appearing to only be there for politics. This is not only not fair to the boats; it’s unfair to the women who take the risk of doing the job. You need not just junior enlisted but also senior enlisted, you need department-head and junior officers, and you need hard chargers who can deal with every good thing they do being treated as “only because she’s a girl”, getting harassed (sexually or otherwise, remembering that harassment is part of being a bubblehead) until the culture shifts sufficiently, and in the case of more senior folks on the boat a more vertical learning curve. Man more than one boat, but if you only have enough for including one just one, then choose the larger integration on one boat rather than spreading three at a time around the fleet. Don’t put all the women in the “special women place” where you can avoid it because there are officers and enlisted who need their space to complain about the other ranks and not given the impetus to unnecessarily fraternize, and kicking department heads out of their stateroom just isn’t going to win converts automatically.
Don’t Be Like Air Force Pilot’s Public Affairs. Do. Not. Publicize. Until. After. Nobody. Cares.
Publicity only raises the stakes and adds pressure that isn’t needed. There is no need to have some schmo put out a press release on “First Woman To Buy Cheese Dip At The Ship’s Store” or whatever. Don’t raise the profile of the ship or squadron, keep the mouth shut as much as possible (but the wives’ network becoming the spouse’s network will cause pain in this area). What you want is to have people eventually say things like “Yeah, they’ve been doing this for a while.”
Make sure the boat isn’t doing wimpy stuff, either. The minimum is “just like the rest of the fleet” and the harder job is better.
Those few things will make it easier to succeed if Congress decides to break the logjam and force the submariners to put women on subs.
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