Navy Secretary Doubling Maternity Leave to 12 Weeks, Lowering Weight Standards
Ray Mabus is trying to make serving in the Navy and Marine Corps more attractive to women.
Navy Times (“Navy to double maternity leave, make fitness changes“):
[Navy Secretary Ray] Mabus, in a speech to the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland on Wednesday, will announce plans to ease body fat restrictions, boost career flexibility, and push to recruit more women in the Navy and Marine Corps, while opening up the last jobs that remain closed to them.
Some of the initiatives aimed at retaining women include doubling paid maternity leave to 12 weeks, longer child-care hours, an updated co-location policy for dual military couples and opportunities like the career intermission program, which allows sailors to take time off to pursue educational or other personal goals.
Mabus has dedicated a big part of his tenure as secretary to integrating women into the fleet, from opening once closed jobs to outfitting men and women in the same styles of uniforms.
He wants to take that a step further, the official said, by opening the last remaining closed billets and increasing recruiting of women to 25%, up from the current 18% for the Navy and about 5% for the Marines.
“When you look at the number of (female) graduates from high school, number of graduated from college, from (science, technology, engineering and math), they far surpass what we see in the Navy and Marine Corps,” the official said.
While the armed forces have generally been ahead of the curve on dealing with social issues, they’re woefully behind their major corporate counterparts in dealing with family issues. Irregular work hours, frequent reassignments, and the difficulty of navigating the career assignment system for dual-career couples make raising a family difficult. From the broad outlines sketched out here, it appears that Mabus is looking to solve some of these issues.
The maternity leave policy is interesting. On the one hand, the existing 6 weeks of paid leave is generous by American corporate standards if woeful by the standards of the rest of the civilized world. Doubling that to 12 weeks would be a very attractive retention tool for a woman considering offers in the private sector. On the other hand, there’s resentment by many of the current policy. The military has a mission-first culture and many see leaving one’s duties for 6 weeks—much less three months—as putting oneself above the mission. And there’s also the “special treatment” argument given that fathers don’t get the same benefit.
The other major proposal here presumably isn’t about recruiting and retaining women:
With an eye toward the Defense Department’s more lenient body fat standards than the Navy’s, officials are looking at increasing the body fat limits for being able to take the physical readiness test portion of the PFA.
That would mean that sailors who are over the Navy’s body fat limit would still be able to take their Physical Readiness Test, as long as they’re within Defense Department standards.
From there, the official said, medical professionals could address body fat issues non-punitively.
This is both long overdue and controversial. On the one hand, there’s little doubt that, as most military jobs, like most private sector jobs, are increasingly about one’s ability to think rather than perform physical tasks, the focus on weight standards is outmoded. To the extent that the concern is simply about health and the ability to perform the mission, shifting to a system that’s evaluative rather than punitive makes sense. We reject far too many talented recruits because they’re overweight, tattooed, or otherwise don’t meet appearance standards based in a bygone era. On the other hand, there’s a deep-seated bias in the military—which I confess to still harboring—against those who look chubby in their uniform. It’s completely irrational in most instances but is strongly rooted in the culture.
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