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Research Questions

  1. What are the gender differences in retention trends for active-duty Coast Guard members?
  2. What factors contribute to women leaving the active-duty-Coast Guard earlier in their careers than men?
  3. What improvements to current Coast Guard policies and programs may lead women to consider remaining in the Coast Guard beyond their initial obligation?

The U.S. Coast Guard aims to attract, recruit, and retain a workforce from all segments of American society. Currently, however, women leave the active-duty Coast Guard at higher rates than men. This report documents the results of a mixed-methods study designed to help identify the root causes of female attrition in the active-duty Coast Guard. The study conducted a statistical analysis of Coast Guard personnel data to examine gender differences in retention trends and whether certain career and personnel characteristics could help explain the gender gap in retention. The study also conducted 164 focus groups with 1,010 active-duty Coast Guard women to better understand potential barriers to female retention; 27 focus groups with 127 active-duty men were also conducted to help identify retention factors that resonate with both men and women and those factors that may be unique to women. Based on the study findings, the report provides recommendations to help mitigate identified barriers and improve female retention within the Coast Guard.

Key Findings

Work environment factors pose retention barriers

  • Experiences with poor leadership can have a negative impact on work environments and can cause women to leave; there is also a scarcity of female role models.
  • Perceived gender bias and discrimination can make women feel less valued and not respected.
  • Concerns about sexual harassment and assault persist.
  • Women experience stress related to perceived unfairness of weight standards and procedures for measuring body fat.
  • Members experience burnout due to feelings of being undermanned and overworked.

Career factors matter but resonate less than work environment for women

  • Female berthing restrictions can reduce opportunities for women to get sea time, which in turn can limit advancement.
  • Women find the assignments process frustrating and unpredictable, and repeatedly receiving assignments in undesired locations can drive women out.
  • Potential civilian opportunities factor in decisions.

Family is viewed as an essential factor, regardless of marital or parental status

  • Frequent transfers and remote locations can limit a civilian spouse's career.
  • Managing two successful active-duty careers is challenging for dual Coast Guard couples, especially when there is a lack of colocation.
  • Deployment separation and repeated transfers can be stressful for children; it can also be difficult to find affordable, quality child care.
  • Women often feel they need to "time their pregnancies" to fit within their career milestones and can face noncompetitive evaluation reports and stigma due to pregnancy restrictions and parental leave.
  • Dating, developing friendships and support networks, or caring for aging parents can be challenges because of frequent moves and underway requirements.


Update Coast Guard personnel management systems to better meet the needs of Coast Guard's current and future workforce

  • Augment unit manpower during members' parental leave through the Coast Guard's Active Duty for Operational Support program and allowing women to transition to Temporary Limited Duty status to open billets for other members.
  • Minimize the impact of parental leave on evaluations and promotion by allowing women to extend their evaluation period, extend their current assignments for additional functional time at a unit, and to delay their promotion window.
  • Develop a centralized information repository of child care options to include information on local child care options members have used in the past.
  • Consider modifying the Weight and Body Fat Standards Program to minimize potential negative impacts on female members.
  • Explore creative solutions to female berthing limitations, such as more flexible privacy options that could enable women access to boats without permanent physical barriers in place.

Implement a communication plan that ensures all members are aware of relevant policies and priorities, and strengthen leadership education to foster inclusive work environments

  • Communicate and educate leaders and members on female-specific Coast Guard policies and hold leaders accountable to uniform policy implementation.
  • Expand opportunities for comprehensive Coast Guard leadership development training that would include providing tools to create an inclusive work environment.
  • Emphasize to assignment officers the importance of assignment policies designed to meet the needs of members' personal lives and increase transparency of assignment process.

Promote accountability and monitor effectiveness through establishing and tracking relevant metrics

  • Continue to monitor retention trends and track retention intentions and reasons for attrition in a consistent manner over time.
  • Ensure workforce data tracks relevant variables in a comprehensive manner.

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

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.