Women's Issues Need 'Enlightened Leadership' to Flourish
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Mar. 24, 2004 Emerging issues pertaining to military and civilian women highlighted discussion at a Defense Department forum here March 23.
Lenora Peters Gant, moderator for DoD's Women's History Month forum, chats with John M. Molino, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for equal opportunity, after the conclusion of the forum at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City Hotel in Arlington, Va. Gant is director of central intelligence and community management, community management staff, scholar-in-residence at Washington's Trinity College. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The forum's aim, officials said, was to provide feedback and recommendations to senior leadership that will thwart future problems.
As part of its observance of National Women's History Month, DoD hosted the forum on "Emerging Issues for Military and Civilian Women in the Department of Defense: Impact on Readiness," at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City Hotel.
Organizers said the forum sought to review key issues relating to women in DoD and the impact of these issues on readiness, and to provide briefings on focus- group discussions to DoD senior leaders.
The contributions of women to the nation's defense are significant and substantial, said John M. Molino, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for equal opportunity.
"Women now comprise 37 percent of our civilian work force and 15 percent of the armed forces," Molino noted. "As late as 1993, military women were precluded from serving in the vast majority of positions traditionally held by men. However, today, women serve in 92 percent of military occupations. The civilian work force has also undergone marked changes for the better."
Molino said participants in the forum discussed emerging issues and provided feedback and recommendations for senior leadership. Sexual Assault: Beyond Sexual Harassment; Recruitment and Retention Issues for Military and Civilian Women in DoD; and the Implications of an Aging Work Force: Challenges of a Multigenerational Workplace were the subjects of sessions for the forum as a whole and for subsequent facilitated workshop discussions, Molino said.
The keynote speaker was retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Susan L. Pamerleau, now the vice president for membership development for the U.S. Automobile Association, which has its headquarters in San Antonio.
Pamerleau, who visited each workshop, said reports from the facilitators and her own impressions of the group discussions told her the forum is a valuable way of using the National Women's History Month observance for a positive impact.
She said this year's theme, "Women Inspiring Hope and Possibility," offers an opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of women in America.
Today's challenges and issues are not merely women's issues, Pamerleau said, they're leadership issues that require the total focus of every commander and leader at every level. She said sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace and an aging federal work force add to already serious problems of recruiting and retention.
Besides having a significant impact on individuals, these problems detract from achieving missions and affect everyone's ability to get the job done, she said. The result, she continued, is a readiness issue, but not from a combat standpoint.
"Prevention of sexual harassment or sexual assault can't be solved by women," the retired two-star general emphasized. "The problem can't be tackled only for special interests; it must be embarked upon for the good of all. Every leader has the responsibility to ensure each person has the opportunity to reach her or his fullest potential."
Women's issues must be championed by "enlightened leadership," the general said. "Through evolution and enlightened leadership, we find women like Sgt. Christine Roberts, an Army flight medic, who received the Soldier's Medal for her rescue of a sergeant from a minefield in Kosovo," Pamerleau said. "It never occurred to her that women who preceded her prior to 1993 could not have had the opportunity to save the life of a fellow soldier in combat."
Enlightened leadership, she said, is why women haven't had to create a revolution to realize their fullest potential. "I've seen evolutionary and revolutionary change for women," Pamerleau said, "but the least disruptive were those issues attacked by our leaders, who championed the causes and who believed in giving every individual a right to reach their fullest potential."
Pamerleau said from the late 1960s, when she joined the Air Force, she saw military and civilian women go higher and higher throughout DoD. "That happened because some men in leadership encouraged those women and then followed up by placing them in senior leadership positions squadron, group, wing command; company, battalion, brigade command; and the equivalents in the Navy and Marine Corps."
The Sexual Assault: Beyond Sexual Harassment workshop facilitators were Allison Johnson, president of Lee Johnson Group; and Gail Wire, equal employment opportunity program manager for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
Facilitators for "Recruitment and Retention Issues for Civilian Women" included Marilee Fitzgerald, deputy director for field advisory service, Civilian Personnel Management Service; and doctorate holder Janice Laurence, an independent consultant.
Force: Challenges of a Multi-Generational Workplace" were Debra Muse, the Army's director of equal employment, and Army Maj. Don Hicks, a physician assistant and instructor in the Interservice Physician Assistant Program at the Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.