Women Leave U.S. Coast Guard at Higher Rates Than Men; More Equitable Personnel Policies Could Help Narrow Gap

For Release

March 29, 2019

As at other military services, women leave the active-duty Coast Guard at higher rates than men. A new RAND Corporation report recommends that to retain a diverse workforce the Coast Guard should continue to pursue more inclusive personnel policies, such as augmenting workforce gaps during parental leave, minimizing the impact parental leave has on evaluations and promotion, and expanding opportunities for leadership development training.

The persistent gender differences underlying decisions to stay on active duty or leave the Coast Guard have implications for the long-run composition of the workforce. According to Coast Guard personnel data, for the active duty force the retention gap between men and women at 10 years of service for officers is 12.6 percentage points and 12.3 percentage points for enlisted members.

“Ensuring leaders and members understand existing female-relevant policies is a first step in promoting standardized implementation of policies designed to improve the work environment for Coast Guard women,” said Kimberly Curry Hall, lead author on the report and a policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.

The report identifies retention factors in three main areas: the work environment, career issues and personal life-related matters.

Work environment concerns include experiences with leadership, gender bias and discrimination, stress related to meeting weight standards, sexual harassment and assault, and workload and resource issues that can lead to burnout.

Career-related factors include issues related to advancement, such as berthing restrictions for women (e.g., sleeping accommodations) on certain boats that can limit opportunities for sea time and thus advancement potential, frustrations with the assignment process, and potential civilian opportunities.

“Regardless of a woman's marital or parental status, family is an essential factor for many women in their decisions to leave or stay in the Coast Guard,” said Kirsten Keller, one of the project leaders and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND. “This includes the influence of spouses, children and the impact pregnancy may have on career advancement potential.”

In addition to broader recommendations, implementing initiatives with a narrow focus could contribute to incremental change and create a more supportive and equitable workplace climate for women, the report found. These include modifications to the weight standards policy to address perceptions of gender inequity, finding creative solutions to remaining berthing limitations for women, improving child care options in remote locations and for overnight duty, and ensuring transparency in assignment policies that meet the needs of members' personal lives.

Other authors of “Improving Gender Diversity in the U.S. Coast Guard: Identifying Barriers to Female Retention” are David Schulker, Sarah Weilant, Katherine Kidder and Nelson Lim.

The research was sponsored by the Coast Guard Office of Diversity and Inclusion and conducted within the Strategy, Policies and Operations Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center, a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) operated by RAND under contract with the Department of Homeland Security.

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