Women in the Military

Essay, 2009

5 Pages, Grade: 1,0



There is a persistent lack of women in leadership positions with strikingly fewer women at higher officer ranks and in combat roles. In the United States and Canada for example, 15% and 17% of commissioned officers and 14% and 14% of non-commissioned officers are women (Febbraro, 2003). The accepted attitude is that if women could not run, they could not lead. Therefore women typically are accorded less respect and support than their male counterparts in the military. Interviews with students at the Royal Military College (RMC) of Canada confirm that this type of thinking persists with the next generation of male soldiers because there were negative comments about women in the forces. Comments such as the following were pervasive: “I just don’t believe a woman could carry me out if I was wounded in a battle.” or “The Israelis tried having women in their combat units and it didn’t work. Now it’s our turn to be ridiculed by other countries.” (Minister’s Advisory Board, 2001). Republican politicians in USA tried to impose restrictions of a number of military jobs open to women. There is the belief that women cannot hold military leadership positions because of their lack of physical prowess. But recent research illustrates that women’s physical abilities are often underestimated. Moreover in terms of physical capacity women are stronger than men in some areas. For example, in terms of endurance, although men run faster than women up to 26 miles, beyond that, the situation is reversed (in tests up to 56 miles; Davis / McKee, 2002). The outdated definitions of leadership based on physical prowess are counterproductive, which shows that military definitions are not keeping pace with current realities. The military of the future will require a different skill set (soft skills and technological skills) because globalization has an impact on armed forces around the world. New technologies are developed and most lethal force no longer involves hand–to-hand combat. If the military does not prepare for this reality, it will be hard to find competent leaders in the future.

The problem in the military is that strength is translated into success and the masculine is taken as the norm. Corporate environments are unfriendly to women because a woman is responsible for her family and this is a barrier for a woman to move into positions of leadership. Comments from an administrative inquiry into the treatment of Canada’s first female infantry officer also illustrate how difficult it is to change these perceptions. Despite the fact that Capt. Perron was extremely competent, worked very hard, achieved first or second place on all her training phases, did two tours with the United Nations Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia, and held the respect of those under her command, she was never fully accepted in the infantry by her peers (Minister’s Advisory Board, 2001). There are some parallels between the modern military and civilian management, for example the persistent lack of women in leadership roles. In business women lead only seven of Fortune’s top 500 U.S. companies and In Canada, Report on Business (a leading Canadian business magazine) recently listed the 25 most influential Canadian business leaders – non were female (Kingston, 2005). Women who want to have success in the military must not only perform effectively, they have to gain acceptance of peers and leaders. Barriers faced by women in business are not so different from those in the military. Therefore women in North America are increasingly pursuing class-action lawsuits costing companies billions of dollars for failing to promote women at all levels of the organisation and compensate them accordingly. Companies are now being advised by their lawyers to do so and to set clear targets for integration. Europe is already moving in this direction and Norway passed legislation requiring boards of joint stock companies to be composed of 40% of women (European Professional Women’s Network, 2005). Canada was the first country to fully integrate women into its armed forces on a regular base. What is interesting about the Canadian example is that this integration was not by choice, it was forced by civilians. Moreover there is a call for measures in business similar to those being adopted in the Canadian military.

The lack of progress for women in civilian organization despite legislation is indicate of the fact that we need something beyond legislation to effect real change. There are still barriers that continue to prevent women’s advancement. Some of the barriers identified include attitudes and behaviors toward women. Some argue that this is because the Army is one of the last institutions that breeds masculinity. Legislation alone cannot change stereotypes and the thinking of soldiers. Sex-role stereotypes can affect how leaders are evaluated and promoted and stereotypes can associated masculinity being a leader. Sometimes even objective criteria can be significantly influenced by our expectations based on one’s sex. In an experimental study the participants had to read about combat pilots that were either male or female. Overall, the findings of this study showed that male pilots were rated higher in combat toughness than women. Men were rated higher in trait hostility, killer instinct, requisite physical strength, and fearlessness, even when individuating information was provided and participants were told that the female pilot had used violent force to kill 30 troops (Mettrick / Cowan, 1996, p. 116). Further, male pilots were more likely to be selected for this mission than female pilots. This study is important because it shows that even when clear information about individual candidates is provided, stereotypes are still active in assignment and evaluation decisions. There is empirical research suggesting that the sex type of a job interacts with the sex of the applicant to affect the hiring decision. In a meta-analysis of studies looking at simulated hiring decisions, it was found hat raters discriminated against females and males when the jobs were male and femal sex–typed, respectively (Davidson / Burke, 2000, p. 231). As mentioned previously, even what may appear to be objective performance can be rated quite differently for men and women.


Excerpt out of 5 pages


Women in the Military
Technical University of Chemnitz
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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382 KB
Military, discrimination, sex, women leaders, gender
Quote paper
B.Sc. (Bachelor of Science) Sarah Dorst (Author), 2009, Women in the Military, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/174092


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