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Women’s Equality Day Commemorates History, Bridges Future Leaders

By Amaani Lyle DoD News Features, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2015 — Today, Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the 95th anniversary of the the ratification of 19th Amendment -- which solidified women’s voting rights -- but it also coincides with current milestones for women in service, a Pentagon official said in an Aug. 24 DoD News interview.

Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management Director Juliet Beyler, who oversees department-wide policies that include promotions, assignments, separations, force management, and awards and decorations, said casting a wider net for talent and diversity across the force is critical.

“Remembrance and recognition of the 19th Amendment serves as a reminder of the need for gender equality,” Beyler said. “Keeping our eye on it will only help ensure that our women continue to have opportunities to go as far as their talents will take them.”

Women in Service Review

As the Defense Department primes to announce its Women in Service Review final integration decisions for remaining closed positions and any potentially approved exceptions to policy in January 2016, once-prohibited occupations in armor, artillery, infantry and special operations can emerge as unprecedented career options for women, who comprise at least 14 percent of the military, she said.

The Women in Service Review stems from the 2013 decision by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to rescind the 1994 direct ground combat definition and assignment rule, Beyler explained, and, since 2013, the DoD has worked closely with the services to implement the decision which, to date, has opened more than 110,000 positions to women.  

The move signifies sweeping progress from less than a century ago, an era that predated women’s voting rights and spurred advocates such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ida B. Wells to dedicate decades of effort to affect equality.

But Beyler noted progression often builds upon previous strides, and the 19th Amendment is no exception.

Building on Achievements

“Hopefully, the women in uniform today will continue to build on those achievements and future leaders will continue to look to the past for lessons learned,” she said. “By removing those old, outdated, gender-based barriers to service [we can] strengthen the total force and enable us to select the best service members for the job.”

The DoD, Beyler added, has also rolled out other initiatives to help service members with work-life balance, including the career intermission program and the recent Navy announcement of extended maternity leave.

Beyler recounted that one of her roles as joint officer policy oversight manager entails the exploration of factors that help develop senior leaders in a modern force.

“We need to mature our thinking; we need joint-qualified acquisition officers, cyber officers, logistics and intelligence officers,” Beyler said, noting that the breadth of skills can only improve the joint force.

Beyler said her decision to join the Marine Corps at age 17 gave her the sense of purpose, discipline and direction she would carry throughout her career and higher education endeavors.

Army Ranger School Graduates

And notably, from both a policy and personal perspective, Beyler said the two recent Army Ranger school graduates represent a major milestone for women in uniform.

“It’s a significant step for the Army because we’re leading up to the final recommendations … and it’s part of the larger effort to validate the standards for all of our occupations but I think we just cannot ignore that milestone we saw last week.”

The director expressed personal pride in the Army’s retention of its high Ranger School standards and conveyed confidence that the women graduates met the rigors of the course. “Nobody associated with the effort -- women or men -- wanted to see a standard reduced, so I think we’re all very proud of their achievement.”

With some 30 years of military and civilian experience under her belt, Beyler shared that a multitude of role models inspired her drive, but perhaps her most significant influences were also the most genuine and successful not in spite of their personalities, but because of them.

“They knew who they were and they knew what they wanted to do,” she said. “When I was a young corporal and sergeant, I thought that in order to succeed I had to be like everybody else.”

Over time, however, Beyler said she not only learned that being herself held the key to her long-term success, but the landscape is evolving, which offers a much broader spectrum of choices for women to do what they love as they serve.

Don’t Fear Taking Risks

“It’s important not to be afraid to take risks,” Beyler said. “It’s good to have a career plan … but don’t be so wedded to your plan that you miss an opportunity that may open three or four more doors down the road.”

Ultimately, Beyler asserts that diversity and inclusion extend far beyond gender, race or ethnicity.

“For me it’s broader than that -- it’s diversity of thought, ability, background, language, culture and all of those things,” she said. “Having people with diverse backgrounds -- not just personal backgrounds, but experiences -- will give us that strategic advantage as we continue to try and maintain a high state of readiness.”

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)