How the military is losing its top talent because of pregnancy discrimination and what we can do about

45 years after women were discharged from military service for pregnancy, pregnancy discrimination polices still do not apply to its military members 

By Jessica Ruttenber

March 2020, I provided personal remarks before DACOWITS, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. They represent one of the oldest Department of Defense (DoD) federal advisory agencies. DACOWITS is composed of civilian leaders appointed by the Secretary of Defense to provide advice and recommendations relating to the recruitment, retention, employment, integration, well-being, and treatment of servicewomen in the Armed Forces. Since 1951, the committee has submitted over 1,000 recommendations to the Secretary of Defense for consideration. As of 2019, approximately 98% have been fully or partially adopted by the DoD.1

I approached the committee in part because I had researched the topic of pregnancy being a long-standing and significant barrier to the career advancement of women in the Armed Forces for many years and recommended multiple policy changes to the Department of the Air Force’s Barrier Analysis Working Group (DAFBAWG) Women’s Initiatives Team (WIT). Truthfully, I came forward out of pure frustration for myself and for the countless Airmen I had helped navigate the Inspector General, Equal Opportunity and Patient Advocacy process over my career. What I have found was many women often do not file complaints due to fear of reprisal, especially after learning that there are no clearly defined protections for their situation. I wanted to give women warriors a voice. I was deeply concerned that in 2020, service members’ careers are still unnecessarily impacted when they become pregnant. Current policies seem to imply that those members become a burden and have less value to the force. This attitude is not lost on pregnant service members, members considering potential future service combined with motherhood, and even their colleagues who are taking their cues from the institution and its leadership on how much women’s service and contributions are valued.

For context, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes pregnancy discrimination a form of illegal sex discrimination. This law does not always apply uniformly to the military. Department of Defense Directive (DoDD) 1020.02E, Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity in the DoD, prohibits unlawful employment discrimination based on sex (to include pregnancy), but only for civilian employees. Although DoD nondiscrimination protections mirror other categories under the Civil Rights Act (i.e., race, color, religion, sex, and national origin), pregnancy among military members is a glaring omission. 

Until 1975, military women were involuntarily discharged when they became pregnant. Married servicewomen did not receive the same benefits as men, (e.g., military housing for families) and their spouses were not always entitled to routine family medical care.2 Forty-five years later, pregnancy remains a barrier to the careers of female warriors. While women are no longer affirmatively forced out, they still risk harm to their careers when having a child. Additionally, a strong argument can be made that current policies encourage servicewomen to hide their pregnancies because of real and perceived impacts to their careers that begin the moment they disclose they are pregnant. As a result, some servicewomen do not obtain prenatal health care during the early stages of their pregnancies.

This is due in part to outdated policies as well as outright discrimination. DoD policies need to be modernized at the service-level. But an important step, both symbolic and practical, is to bar pregnancy discrimination altogether when the member can competently perform the mission. Destigmatizing pregnancy is essential to servicewomen’s sense of inclusion in the military. By taking this important first step, the military will be in a better position to compete for diverse talent, enhance operational readiness, and retain qualified personnel–all while preserving mission accomplishment.

Restrictive policies and blanket occupational health profiles intended to protect servicewomen during pregnancy can negatively impact unit readiness, individual career progression, and the retention of female Service members. As a result, servicewomen miss training opportunities, leading to less experience than their male counterparts. In some cases, they are unnecessarily losing qualifications in critical career fields. These highly trained professionals should be provided the opportunity to perform their duties and/or attend training while pregnant, as long as it does not impact the mission. Policies need to be written to give servicewomen the ability to make informed decisions with their obstetricians’ approval vice automatically removing them from their careers with no consideration given to medical recommendations or the member’s desires. 

In addition to DoD changes, congress should amend Title VII, EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES – 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16a (2012), to apply to the military, thereby requiring the military to articulate a sound justification for any differential treatment of women based on pregnancy discrimination. This much needed amendment could conceivably be phrased as follows: “Military departments, as provided in Sec. 2000e-16(a), shall include uniformed personnel. This shall not preclude pregnancy as a bona fide occupation qualification, as define in Sec. 2000e-16(a), for education, training and employment.”

In the past month, the DoD has begun a policy review for the career enhancement of pregnant U.S. Service members. I applaud them for recognizing this issue and being willing to take action. Change in any large institution is difficult because of the vastness of the bureaucratic layers that exist. Astutely stated by Victor Hugo, “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” I believe for the armed services our time has come. The armed services are ready for the much-needed change that will transform our culture to one of inclusion, fostering an environment of even greater competence and lethality. After all, the same era that discharged women when they became pregnant was also a service that had ashtrays installed in-between flight controls so their pilots could smoke while flying. Look how far we have come and imagine how much further we will go. 

This is not a phenomenon unique to military culture and policies; the private industry faces equally significant issues. In 2008, a study by the National Partnership for Women & Families found that pregnancy discrimination complaints have risen at disproportionate rate compared tothe steady influx of women into the workplace.3 Research reveals that pregnant workers continue to face inequality in the workplace.4 The study found that much of the increase in these complaints has been fueled by an increase in charges filed by women of color. Pregnancy discrimination claims filed by women of color increased by 76% from FY 1996 to FY 2005, while pregnancy discrimination claims overall increased 25% during the same period.5

Why should we care? By addressing these barriers and coming up with solutions, we will increase retention rates necessary to maintain our lethal edge and sustain the warfighter imperative. Highly trained women choose to leave the military at a disproportionate rate compared to their male peers. It costs more than $1 million dollars to train one Air Force pilot.6 When it comes to retention, 63% of rated male Air Force officers continue to serve beyond their initial service commitment. In comparison, only 39% of rated female officers elect to continue service beyond the end of their commitment.7 Exit surveys directly contribute family considerations and culture as reasons that Airmen choose to leave service. These reasons that women chose to leave are ones that can be fixed through policy and culture change. Why wouldn’t we want to protect this investment?

Women are a significant component of our recruiting pool, and by not fostering a sense of inclusion, we lose our ability to compete for that talent. We risk filling our service branches with less qualified individuals simply because we do not consider the needs of one gender. It is a warfighter imperative that we focus our efforts on future talent to ensure that we inspire, recruit, develop, and retain highly skilled service members capable of meeting current and future mission requirements. “The United States faces challenges recruiting and retaining men and women in the military, as approximately 71% of young adults do not qualify to enlist in the military, mostly because they are physically unfit, do not meet educational requirements, or their criminal or drug use history is disqualifying. Women qualify for military commissions at higher rates than men but continue to be recruited and retained at lower rates than servicemen.”8

The 2018 RAND study, “Addressing Barriers to Female Officer Retention in the Air Force” identified that pregnancy issues influenced 85% of the focus groups on female officers’ retention. A common pregnancy-related concern raised focused on the difficulty of timing pregnancies to fit within rigid career timelines. Female officers relayed that they have felt the need to “program” pregnancy at precise times in their careers to minimize adverse career effects. Despite attempts to “schedule” pregnancies, service women still encountered negative career impacts such as the inability to attend in-residence Professional Military Education (PME), or, career field-specific problems such as loss of flight time for pilots.

Representation in role models and the lifestyles they lived was another staggering finding. Focus groups found that 83% of participants identified the importance of having female role models in senior leadership positions. Participants emphasized that they rarely see female leaders who are married with children. The resulting perception among younger female officers is that it is not possible for women to both have a family and become a senior leader in the Air Force.9

Pregnancy discrimination does not always derive from a practical concern for mission accomplishment, but rather a robust implicit bias present in every individual. Implicit bias is the “unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain group. These stereotypes are shaped by experience and based on learned associations between particular qualities and social categories, including race and/or gender”.10 Here is an example of two Airmen, call signs Taboo and Radar.  Both are the same year group and have almost indistinguishable careers, yet the Air Force and society see them very differently. They graduated from the same college and commissioning source and both were identical in rank as F-16 wingmen. When Taboo was in her first interview with her squadron commander, she was asked what her plans were to start a family. In the same circumstances, Radar was asked if he wanted to go to Weapon School. It doesn’t take a misogynistic supervisor or commander to make these distinctions, but they happen every day. Recognizing and accepting that we all have implicit bias is the first step. We also need to accept that in most cases, we don’t even realize it is happening. You can learn more about how to avoid these hidden biases derived from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes in the book Blind Spot written by psychologists Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald. 

Maternal bias is another concern that we, as leaders need to consider. This is a stereotype and discrimination encountered by working mothers and mothers seeking employment. Motherhood often triggers false assumptions that women are less competent and less committed to their careers.11 As a result, service members who are pregnant or have young children are statistically less likely to be selected for a competitive position or promotion by their leadership. Although pregnancy discrimination has many varying degrees, this one is one of the most prevalent that I have witnessed during my time in service. Commanders may become overly concerned about the time a member may be not accomplishing the mission without seeing the full picture. They may also make assumptions about the members’ career ambitions on their behalf without taking into account the member’s desires.

The truth is having a child will take Airmen out of the fight for a small period of time. The convalescent period after an uncomplicated delivery is six weeks. In most cases, the service member will opt for primary caregiver leave (42 days) or secondary caregiver leave (21 days). For every pregnancy, it is expected that the member will be out of the office for a period of 57 to 78 days.12 Men may be designated as the primary caregiver but are often discouraged. Exit studies are increasingly revealing that males are departing the force due to family incompatibility as well. And while we are calling out the elephant in the room, we also have to factor in current postpartum deployment deferments. This may seem like a significant period when looking at a career under a microscope. But when you retract the lens to look at more than a 20 year career, prioritizing that time and allowing members to support their families will pay dividends andretaining crucial talent in the long run. This is not just a female problem. Families should become a leader’s problem. By allowing all Airmen to take the intended leave to start and nourish their families, creates a needed high-trust environment. Leaders who show their Airmen that they care about them as individuals and value all aspects of their service, to include how they are as parents, will only make our force stronger and retain talent longer.

Another aspect to leading Airmen who are starting families is to not make decisions on their behalf. While I believe leaders are not intentionally disadvantaging careers due to pregnancy, even the greatest of uninformed intentions can cause rippling negative career implications. Leaders may think they are helping a new mother by not putting her in for a competitive position or pulling her from training or upgrade to give her more time to recover or be with her child. When this is done without consulting the female results in missed opportunities that will impact progression for the rest of their careers. As leaders, I would encourage you to speak with your pregnant subordinates to clearly understand their goals and priorities. You may be surprised by what a new mom is capable of doing and which opportunities they desire. As part of your feedback with them before the birth, have that conversation of their expectations and ask how you can assist her in achieving them. Through being intentional, proactive and having a plan, leaders can have a significant impact on that Airmen’s ability to continue serving to their maximum potential.  

We need to ensure a servicewoman’s career is not negatively affected as a result of pregnancy. I am encouraged that OSD’s recognizes this barrier and is considering potential policy changes that would improve women’s sense of inclusion.  Unfortunately this by itself will not be enough.  How we implement policy changes individually at a unit level is just as crucial; otherwise, it’s just words on a paper. We need to take our diversity and inclusion training and education more seriously.  If we put real resources toward social changes, we can achieve true equality and enhance our military’s foundational readiness. Our military is the most capable and lethal team the world has ever seen. To retain this world-class advantage in the future and meet the needs of our National Defense Strategy, we must deliberately ensure that all Americans have an equal opportunity to serve.

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Edited by Megan Biles

Featured Photo by Jeff Wojtaszek: Air Force Commander of the 305th Operations Support Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base, Lt. Col. Jannell MacAulay handed the baton to Lt. Col. Michele Lobianco (2017)

Photo 2: Air Force KC-135 pilot, Lt Col Jessica Ruttenber with her 4 year old son Daniel at Altus Air Force Base (2018)

Photo 3: Air Force F-16 pilots, Lt Col Kathryn Gaetke (Taboo) and Lt Col Matthew Gaetke (Radar) at Misawa Air Force Base (2012)

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NOTES:

1. Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). Accessed June 13, 2020. https://dacowits.defense.gov/.

2. “1970s: Family Policy.” Detail. Women’s Memorial Foundation. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.womensmemorial.org/history/detail/?s=1970s-family-policy.

3. Nat’l Partnership for Women & Families, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: Where We Stand 30 Years Later (2008), available at http://qualitycarenow.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/ Pregnancy_Discrimination_Act_-_Where_We_Stand_30_Years_L.pdf?docID=4281 (last visited May 5, 2014)

4. While there is no definitive explanation for the increase in complaints, and there may be several contributing factors, the National Partnership study indicates that women today are more likely than their predecessors to remain in the workplace during pregnancy and that some managers continue to hold negative views of pregnant workers. Id. at 11

5. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission., and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues.” Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/enforcement-guidance-pregnancy-discrimination-and-related-issues.

6. Mattock, Michael G., Beth J. Asch, James Hosek, and Michael Boito, The Relative Cost-Effectiveness of Retaining Versus Accessing Air Force Pilots. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2415.html.

 7. Keller, K. M., Hall, K. C., Matthews, M., Payne, L. A., Saum-Manning, L., Yeung, Douglas Lim, N. (2018), Addressing Barriers to Female Officer Retention in the Air Force, RAND Corp.

8. Erika L. King, Diana M. DiNitto, David Snowden & Christopher P. Salas-Wright (2020): New Evidence on Retaining Air Force Members with Young Children: Exploring Work and Personal Factors by Gender, Military Behavioral Health

9. Keller, K. M., Hall, K. C., Matthews, M., Payne, L. A., Saum-Manning, L., Yeung, Douglas Lim, N. (2018), Addressing Barriers to Female Officer Retention in the Air Force, RAND Corp.

10. “Understanding Implicit Bias.” Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. The Ohio State University. Accessed June 13, 2020. http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/.

11. “We Tend to Believe Mothers Are Less Committed to Their Careers (VIDEO).” LeanIn.Org. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://leanin.org/education/what-is-maternal-bias.

12. DoDI 1327.06 June 16, 2009 Incorporating Change 3, Effective May 19, 2016, Leave and Liberty Policy and Procedures

Your marriage matters; can women have a successful military career and a family?

By Jessica Ruttenber

A call to service is a call to sacrifice. Frequently, it is the family that makes the greatest sacrifice so that a loved one may serve. Their lives are filled with long separations and awaiting the inevitable move associated with a change in duty station. Often this is just after the family has finally settled in from the previous assignment. Their lives are filled with uncertainties; new schools, new jobs, friends left behind. Spouses are the glue that keep the family together when the challenge of service calls once again. There is no doubt our families are the true unsung heroes behind each successful service member.

Active duty members in a dual-military marriage face unique challenges balancing their careers with family. The armed services make an effort to match assignments for these couples when available. Unfortunately, given the member’s career field and available leadership opportunities, joint assignments may not be compatible with both members’ career goals. To continue serving, they may be forced to take separate duty stations with the “hope” of reuniting in their next assignments. Often these couples find themselves having to make the difficult decision of choosing whether to progress in their careers OR be stationed together.

Unfortunately, dual-military marriage is predominantly a “female issue.” In 2018, of the 671,591 married active-duty members in the Department of Defense (DoD), 12.9% were in dual-military marriages. Only 7.6% of men serving made up that dual-mil statistic. Almost half (44%) of active duty married women were dual-military.

That is not to discount that either gender may have a professional civilian spouse who has also influenced the family’s decision on whether to continue serving. Identified in their exit surveys, a spouse’s career path has been shown as causal to many members leaving the service. In Heather Penney and Miriam Krieger’s 2015 study, The Millennial Imperative, they state:

“Personnel management practices are predicated upon an outdated, 1950’s nuclear family model; the full-time domestic support of a portable, stay-at-home spouse is a necessary condition for most Airmen to be able to serve and promote without limiting factors on their career. Female officers are rarely partnered with such a spouse and thus often must sub-optimize their career, becoming less competitive for promotion and retention as a result.”

The study goes on to say American society no longer reflects the traditional nuclear model–women are a leading indicator for future retention problems in the millennial generation.

But let’s take a step back from the dual-military spouse and reflect upon who we marry. For both spouses to have successful careers with children, the parental responsibilities must not default to the woman. Your attitudes about family planning and equitable parental responsibilities will determine your success regardless of profession. We need to be more honest and have these difficult and less romantic conversations with our potential future spouse. Or, perhaps you are already married, and the complexity of work-life-balance is hitting you like a train. It’s never too late for your marriage to evolve and grow. Sheryl Sandberg discusses this in her book Lean In. She describes this search for balance in a chapter titled, “Make your partner a real partner.”

“According to the most recent analysis, when a husband and wife both are employed full-time, the mother does 40 percent more child care and about 30 percent more housework than the father. A 2009 survey found only 9 percent of people in dual-earner marriages said they shared housework, child care, and breadwinning evenly. So while men are taking on more household responsibilities, this increase is happening very slowly, and we are still far from parity. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, same-sex couples divide household tasks much more evenly.)”

No wonder many members throw the towel in and leave military service. That pace would run anyone into the ground and is not sustainable when combined with the additional demands of service. Don’t be afraid to seek support and change the status quo.

“My advice to someone with aspirations for a successful career in a serious relationship is to ask your partner in what situation would they consider changing their current career path for a relationship heading towards marriage? If the answer is a hard nothing, then swipe left and move on with your life.”

J-Rutt

When my first child was born in 2012, my husband and I took an assignment apart to continue advancing in our careers. Our daughter lived with me. Luckily, he was only 90 minutes away attending a one year school while I continued to fly at an operational KC-135 unit. One morning my 5-month old daughter became ill, and I had to fly a mission that afternoon. I called my husband to ask him to miss school and drive up and stay with her. On the other end of the phone was silence. It just then occurred to me despite all the non-stop over planning we did for her arrival; finding the best day cares, sleep training books, best bottles to prevent gas… we never talked about or considered who would have to miss work if something unexpected came up. Like many new partners, we were naïve.

In my husband’s mind, this responsibility defaulted to the woman. He came from a background where his mother stayed at home with the children. In my mind, I was piloting a mission, and his school could wait. Either way, we both would get push back from our units. To complicate this, we did not have family around to support us because, just like every military family, we move from base to base and continuously have to start anew. I highlight this to tell you that we had to evolve and we could have avoided a lot of conflict and misunderstanding with a little more preparation and expectation management.

Fast forward 8 years, we have three children and both of us managed to keep promoting. My husband is an incredible father and, on more than one occasion, has pulled more than his weight when I handed him our children and deployed. Perhaps, being the primary and only caregiver of our children for long periods of time led him to the realization of the true workload of parenthood and gave him confidence. It also taught me I could let go of trying to do it all and my husband was more than capable of adapting to a more modern day role of fatherhood. Before he left command in 2018, he changed his unit’s weekly meeting to begin no earlier than 8:00 AM. His unit was 95% male and he made this change purposefully. The primary elementary school in the area started at 7:45 AM. As the commander, he did not want to push the burden of school drop-offs to spouses when such an easy adjustment could be made. He also created a playroom for the children in the unit and encouraged his squadron to bring their kids to work on school half-days instead of assuming their civilian spouse would automatically have to cover the logistics of those days. I’d like to say these types of considerations and acceptance is common, but it’s not.

At that same base, there were times on rare occasions, when I would bring my children to work when I was not flying and care was not available. I wish I could say that I was met with acceptance and support, but to be honest with you, I was not. There was a clear double standard for me. Some men missed work just as often, if not more so, to take their sick child to a doctor or a reoccurring appointment. My husband routinely took the lead and brought our oldest daughter to a weekly re-occurring medical appointment without adverse comment. Despite my average 50+ hour work week, I was counseled “out of concern” because I was occasionally coming in later in the morning. I made sure to never miss any important engagements and more than made up the time I was delayed due to supporting my children. But it was the “appearance” that concerned them. The men who missed work for their children were not counseled.

The priorities our leaders enforce are just as important as their leadership and acceptance. What kind of message are we sending to service members with our own policies? We have policies that allow women, but not men, to separate from service for having a baby. In Air Force Instruction 36-3208, Administration Separation of Airmen, it states, “women may find pregnancy and the expectation of motherhood incompatible with continued service.” The DoD also allows primary caregiver leave (6 weeks) and secondary caregiver leave (21 days) after having a baby. The female is almost always assumed to be the primary caregiver (after her 6 weeks of convalescent leave). Men often find resistance from their leadership when they try to become the primary caregiver. This mindset is effectively saying the responsibility of childcare is a women’s responsibility.

When our second child was born in 2014, my husband and I were stationed overseas. During this time, men were given seven days of leave for the birth of a child, I was given a total of six weeks. Having a newborn with an 18-month-old at home while overseas without support from extended family was challenging. My husband went to his leadership and asked if he could take 3 weeks of additional leave to help me out and was outright denied for no other reason it had never been done before. I ended up asking for 6 additional weeks of leave and was approved with no questions. Upon returning to work, I was re-qualified in the aircraft and was back accomplishing the mission.

Balancing raising children with a highly demanding job is difficult at the best of times. I love my children and desired to spend time with them, but I also found great satisfaction and fulfillment from my career and serving my country. However, with the lack of support and empathy, postpartum depression slowly crept in. It was a depression that I hid from others in part due to a growing fear that maybe I had dedicated my life to an institution not designed for me. Could I have avoided that depression had we been better supported? I can’t say for sure, but I know it would have helped a lot. All I knew at that time was I was coming up for a Lieutenant Colonel promotion board and I didn’t want to show any signs of weakness or be perceived that I had taken my foot off the pedal. I had already experienced being disadvantaged and discriminated against due to having a child. I was selected to interview for the executive officer position to the wing commander. It was canceled because I had just had a child, despite making it known to my leadership that I was willing and still wanted to compete for the opportunity. The interview I had scheduled for was canceled without my consent or consideration. The uphill battle of the addition of a new child, my spouse not being supported by his leadership to assist more, and my own experiences of the system prematurely denying me progression opportunities because of a newborn was a struggle to say the least.

Did I sacrifice alone? I did not. As my marriage evolved, my husband, a “fast-moving officer” selected early for promotion, started to make sacrifices to his career as well to keep our family together. No longer was my career the assumed back burner as it had been before. Although I am by no means destined for general officer, we have both been highly successful in making a positive impact on our Airmen and to the nation. We are both Lieutenant Colonels working in the Pentagon with three happy and healthy children. Who knows where we will be next. I would like to say our story of success is commonplace rather than the exception, but based on DoD retention and promotion data, it is not. My current boss is incredibly supportive of my family, and I hope with more supervisors like him and my husband, it will get even better.

Paula Kuwaiti (Artist) @commonwildlandscape

In the last 5 years, many of our DoD policies have improved. But we still have a long way to go. Women are a minority in the military. In 2018, the percent of women by service was Army 15%, Navy 20%, Marine Corps 9%, Air Force 20%, and Coast Guard 15%. The number of women in the service needs to hit critical mass, which is defined as a sufficient number of adopters of a social system that can influence the majority before meaningful change will occur. Studies vary, but 30% is the most agreed-upon number. Our numbers are slowly rising but until then very deliberate policy changes need to continually evolve with the millennial generation. What is worrisome is the low representation of women at the highest levels of military leadership, especially women who are racial or ethnic minorities. As of February 2020 there were 38 active duty four star generals (O-10). Of that there was only one woman. Of the entire general officer population (876) there are only 7.4% women. Senior enlisted are slightly higher, hovering around 13%. Women’s retention rates are almost half of men for varying reasons, but most of them are centered on the compatibility of a family with service. Women with occupations that are more physically demanding encounter more barriers to their progression during pregnancy.

On a side note, if you are going to travel this path, I highly recommend increasing your domestic support to give yourself margin. We would not be able to do what we do today without our incredible nanny, who is essential to providing us the margin we need. I would encourage you to seek and receive help where you are able to. No one has ever become less of a parent or a leader because they hired someone to clean their toilet. Studies show it’s about quality time, not the quantity of time with your children.

Was this easy for this military mom? Hell no! Would I do it again? Hell yes! Can you have a family and a successful career in the military? Yes, you can! A lot will depend on you and your partner becoming a team with equitable parental responsibilities. Become those that share the burden to avoid being run into the ground, burned out, or eventually forced into defeat. Despite societal conditioning and policies that urge you to slow down when a man would not, resist the urge to make your career the automatic backseat when facing these challenges. Policy and culture will eventually catch up, stop holding yourself back until it does. This is hard but doable. So take a bit of advice from Sheryl Sandberg and “Lean In” ladies.

And with that, I leave you with the words a senior leader whom I look up to and admire once told me. “I can only imagine a day where our daughters will take this all for granted. That would be a fine day, don’t you think?”

Yes ma’am. Yes, it will.

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Edited by Megan Biles

Featured Photo: Lt Col Nichelle Somers with her husband Lt Col Jason Somers. From the left children Lilah (5), Corbin (7), and Jett (3). Lt Col Nichelle Somers and her husband are Air Force pilots stationed at Kadena, Japan.

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NOTES:

Active Duty Master Personnel File, Military Academies. Defense Manpower Data Center, March 2020.

“Profile of the Military Community .” Military One Source. Department of Defense (DoD), Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy (ODASD (MC&FP)), under contract with ICF (https://www.icf.com/work/human-capital. Accessed April 29, 2020. https://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/Reports/2018-demographics-report.pdf.

Melissa A. Milkie, Sara B. Raley, and Suzanne M. Bianchi, “Taking on the Second Shift: Time Allocations and Time Pressures of U.S. Parents with Preschoolers,” Social Forces 88, no. 2 (2009): 487–517.

Heather Penney and Miriam Krieger, “Female Officer Retention and the Millennial Imperative, 2015 unpublished study.

Melissa A. Milkie, Sara B. Raley, and Suzanne M. Bianchi, “Taking on the Second Shift: Time Allocations and Time Pressures of U.S. Parents with Preschoolers,” Social Forces 88, no. 2 (2009): 487–517.

Scott S. Hall and Shelley M. MacDermid, “A Typology of Dual Earner Marriages Based on Work and Family Arrangements,” Journal of Family and Economic Issues 30, no. 3 (2009): 220.

Between 1965 and 2000, the amount of time per week that married fathers spent on child care almost tripled and the amount of time married fathers spent on housework more than doubled. In 1965, married fathers spent 2.6 hours per week on child care. In 2000, married fathers spent 6.5 hours per week on child care. Most of this increase occurred after 1985. In 1965, married fathers spent about 4.5 hours per week on housework. In 2000, married fathers spent almost 10 hours per week on housework. The largest increase in the time spent on housework took place between 1965 and 1985. The amount of time married fathers spend each week doing housework has not increased much since 1985. See Suzanne M. Bianchi, John P. Robinson, and Melissa A. Milkie, Changing Rhythms of American Family Life (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006). Analysis done by Hook (2006) of twenty countries found that between 1965 and 2003, employed, married fathers increased the amount of unpaid domestic work they performed by about six hours per week. See Jennifer L. Hook, “Care in Context: Men’s Unpaid Work in 20 Countries, 1965–2003,” American Sociological Review 71, no. 4 (2006): 639–60.

Letitia Anne Peplau and Leah R. Spalding, “The Close Relationships of Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals,” in Close Relationships: A Sourcebook, ed. Clyde A. Hendrick and Susan S. Hendrick (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000), 111–24; and Sondra E. Solomon, Esther D. Rothblum, and Kimberly F. Balsam, “Money, Housework, Sex, and Conflict: Same-Sex Couples in Civil Unions, Those Not in Civil Unions, and Heterosexual Married Siblings,” Sex Roles 52, nos. 9–10 (2005): 561– 75.