I found the gender and leadership lesson to be particularly interesting as a woman who has been in the Marine Corps for over 16 years. The Marine Corps has roughly 184,000 military members, the smallest of any branch of service, with females making up only 8% of this number at 15,000. Just to give a comparison, the Air Force with the second lowest female’s serving at 16% with 51,000. Northouse (2016) breaks it down military-wide by stating that only 6.9% of all flag officers (generals and admirals) are women. And I can guarantee that those women had to work even harder to get to those ranks.
Northouse (2016) describes the gender leadership difference as the leadership labyrinth which revolves around three types of explanations. The first explanation that Northouse describes is a difference in human capital or the idea that women have less investment in education, training, and work experience in comparison to men (pg. 399). Northouse then goes onto to explain that women now are earning the same level of education, if not more than that of males, but still are not represented in top leadership positions. A second explanation is regarding women’s work experience, specifically continuity as women are expected to maintain domestic duties and raise children. This was a topic of focus in the women in occupations class that I took and found it particularly interesting. Women all over the world are expected to work and raise children, or if they choose to work and not have children they are often judged and on the opposite spectrum, if they choose to have children and not work they are often judged. It is also particularly hard in the Marine Corps as well. For a lot of females, the moment you say you are pregnant, you are being judged as trying to get out of deployments, or exercises or training. You then work until the day you give birth with the only limitation being you cannot be forced to work over 40 hours a week in your third trimester. You received six weeks of maternity leave and went back to work, and then expected to be back to physical standards at six months and pass a physical fitness test. Women who struggle with weight and physical fitness after pregnancy are often looked down upon by male Marines and are at risk of receiving negative marks at the time of performance evaluations, which ultimately affects your ability to move up in your career. Then dealing with sick children, is a whole other ordeal. I had a Captain I worked for (he did not have children at the time), told me I should have a family care plan for someone to take care of my child when he was sick, which is not what the family care plan is designed for, and at the same time my then-husband was also active duty automatically expected me to stay home with our sick child. I found myself having to flat out tell him his career was no better than mine and he was going to have to cover mornings or afternoons and I would get the other. Even with the ever-changing times, and more women in the workforce than ever, it seems there is a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation for many women when it comes to career and family life.
The second explanation Northouse (2016) identifies in the leadership labyrinth is gender difference, or women are just different from men (pg. 401). Northouse specifically discusses that studies have shown small differences in leadership styles amongst men and women, but in roles or occupations that are more congruent with their gender (2016, pg. 403). The Marine Corps as a whole, I think is viewed as being a masculine job, but it is divided even further when dealing with specific military occupational specialities (MOS’s). The Marine Corps has undergone some significant changes over the last few years in that what once were male-only combat related MOS’s are now open to men and women. The Marine Corps was the last to do this, but in my opinion for the right reason in that, they need to establish minimum physical requirement standards that must be met, in order to get into the school and then complete and pass the school. While your physical ability doesn’t necessarily make you a good leader, you should not be able to command your Marines to do something that you are not capable of doing yourself, as you will not have their respect. I saw this when I went through the basic school, which is all basic infantry training. There were only 13 females out of 300 students and the ones that struggled, or couldn’t carry the weight, or complete the training, would quickly lose respect amongst the others. Not to say that there weren’t some males who couldn’t carry their weight too, but I think women are quicker to be judged. My MOS is not combat related but there is something in me that continues to feel the need to run faster, pt harder and work harder to ensure I’m seen not just as equal but as better because I feel that’s what makes me competitive for promotion and respected amongst other Marines.
The third explanation Northouse gives is prejudice. Hoyt & Chemers, 2008 describes these as gender biases that stem from the stereotype that women take care and men take charge (Northouse, 2016, pg. 404). Everyone, whether they admit it or not is subject to biases, and gender biases have been prevalent for ages. It wasn’t until World War II that women really stepped in and started filling the roles typically filled by men in industrial settings. Women were seen as the caregivers who stayed home and raised a family while the men went to work and earned income, and women continue to fight these stereotypes. Early in the Marine Corps, women only filled clerical billets, and bootcamp was more of an etiquette class with some physical training. There were different physical fitness tests men and women were expected to pass. As time has gone on, the Marine Corps has recognized the capabilities of women, both technically and physically and adjusted it’s training to reflect as such. Now females go through the exact same training as men in bootcamp and officer candidate school and all MOS’s are open to men and women. In the Marine Corps, the combat MOS’s were restricted due in large part because of pure physical strength. For grunts, they are walking significant distances in full battle gear with packs and carrying heavy weapons and sleeping days or weeks at a time in the field without showers and toilets. I experienced gender biases when I checked into the basic school. I’m 5’3” and 117 pounds and the gunners in my platoon thought I was going to fall out of every hike and rely on others to carry my gear. I know this because they flat out told me they were surprised and impressed that I was able to hold my own. That led to us discussing women in combat MOS’s and I gave them my opinion that if a woman is physically capable of doing everything that is expected of men in that MOS, then there is no reason they shouldn’t be allowed.
According to Andrews (1992) and Fletcher (2001) women are more likely to take on roles that are not necessarily official leadership roles but rather a facilitator or organizer role (Northouse, 2016, pg. 403). While really only having the Marine Corps to relate this to, I can say that this seems like an accurate statement. Being a female leader in the Marine Corps is hard. Northouse (2016) discusses women who are self-promoting are seen less socially attractive (pg. 403) and when a woman corrects a group of male Marines she is often immediately looked at as a shrew or battle-axe, or perhaps being over emotional. Whereas if a male Marine corrects a group or even an individual Marine they are just doing their job. I think this drives a lot of women out of the Marine Corps. You have to have that tough exterior and hide whatever internal feelings about something you might have because it will have a negative connotation that is associated with it.
Northouse (2016) recognized that organizations are continuing to change and making it easier for women to reach higher levels of position (pg. 406). I continue to see this in the Marine Corps. My specific MOS falls under a newly created division in Headquarters Marine Corps and established the role of Deputy Commandant for Information that is held by a female Lieutenant General. Within this division are sub-agencies, two of which are held by high ranking women, one a Brigadier General and the other as Senior Executive Service member, a civilian equivalent to a flag officer. Women are being assigned to infantry platoons as platoon commanders and will continue in such positions. I think the Marine Corps is continuing to recognize that women are fully capable of performing equal and sometimes better than men in positions and will hopefully continue to close the barriers and afford women the opportunity to fill positions they are and have been deserving of.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2019). Lesson 13: Leadership and Diversity. PSYCH485: Leadership in Work Settings. Retrieved June 25, 2019, from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/canvas/su19/2195min-5376/content/13_lesson/printlesson.html
Active Duty Military Strength (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/dwp/dwp_reports.jsp