Women in Combat

Leon Panetta
Leon Panetta

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta showed insight in his recent announcement that the Obama administration will allow women to be placed in positions that will expose them more directly to fighting with enemy ground forces.

Women absolutely have the right for access to these new capacities, which include greater opportunity for military leadership—especially if they are held to the same standard of physical demands as men, as it appears they will.

Some wonder how men will respond to a dramatic increase in women military leaders, as culture and relationships evolve. Of more importance is if that comes at the cost of appointing the best leaders.

Sexual cases among insurgencies will likely increase, as the majority of such cases with U.S. soldiers already take place among women, who make up just 15.5 percent of the nation’s

Tammy Duckworth
Rep. Tammy Duckworth

military. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) addressed the issue correctly when she noted, “This is not a female problem; it’s a predator problem.” And social scientists say it takes 30 percent of a group to be represented for an organization to reflect that group, anyway.

Those who have served in the military, including the recent wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, have attested to the importance of women in key military roles. Canadian officials earlier this decade permitted a motion similar to that made in the U.S. last week, and it has bolstered their army, bringing greater intelligence. Critical information gathering in operative locations in Iraq and Afghanistan has been easier for the nation’s force, as women soldiers have been able to relate better with native females. Gen. James “Spider” Marks, a former military officer turned CNN analyst, said that women have been “incredible contributors to mission accomplishments.”

Women in the milary - Wikimedia commonsGiven that women have been found, on average, to be better leaders than men, that’s not surprising. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman’s latest survey of 7,280 leaders, evaluated in 2011 and published in the Harvard Business Review, confirms some “seemingly eternal truths” about men and women leaders in the workplace, but also may have carried some surprises.

Using a dataset generated from leaders in some of the most successful and progressive organizations in the world, Zenger and Folkman confirmed assumptions that female leaders excel at “nurturing” competencies such as developing others and building relationships, and many might put exhibiting integrity and engaging in self-development in that category as well. And in all four cases our data concurred — women did score higher than men.

But the women’s advantages were not at all confined to traditionally women’s strengths. At every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows, be it executive management or front line supervisor.

At all levels, women were rated higher in 12 of 16 competencies Zenger and Folkman used to figure outstanding leadership. Two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree — taking initiative and driving for results — have long been thought of as particularly male strengths. As it happened, men outscored women significantly on only one management competence in this survey — the ability to develop a strategic perspective.

Defense strategists should embrace data concerning improving leadership – no matter where it’s found. A place like the corporate sector, which relies so heavily on effective team management, is utilizing gender to seek greater success. The military should be no different.

Among those who are concerned about women reaching current physical standards to spear an infantry: make the challenge, and see how many women can pass the test.

In that light, it’s a new dawn for the feminist movement.

Rhett Wilkinson is a senior at Utah State University studying journalism/communications and political science. A co-founder of Aggie BluePrint—USU’s first student magazine—he has worked as an intern in Congressional and Gubernatorial offices and as a correspondent for the Deseret News and Standard-Examiner.

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