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Women Holding Their Own in DoD Work Force

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2006 – Women throughout history would be proud of what today's community of DoD women has accomplished, a top DoD personnel official said here March 21.

DoD employees are among the nation's finest visionaries, dream makers and community builders, which coincides with this year's Women's History Month theme, "Women: Builders of Communities and Dreams," Marilee Fitzgerald, principal director of the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy, said during the DoD observance of Women's History Month at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial here.

"Your distinguished military careers and exceptional federal civilian service are an inspiration to men and women around the nation," she said.

That's particularly true, Fitzgerald said, for those "who are making incalculable sacrifices to preserve freedom and the democratic principles that underpin a peaceful, productive and dignified society."

She said the ceremony honored "the spirit of possibility and the hope set in motion by generations of women in their creation of communities and encouragement of dreams."

"These women worked to ensure an independent nation; they planted the fields, taught the children, wrote the books, gave the speeches, and insisted on an end to inequality," she said. "And they demanded liberty, the right to organize, the right to vote, and the right to share equally in the pursuit of happiness.

"These are the women who stepped forward when needed," she added.

Fitzgerald said women of the past would be proud of women like retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, the driving force behind building the women's memorial. "Her vision to build this memorial will not only ensure that women are forever recognized as a critical and historic part of the woven tapestry of military service, but will also inspire others to dream and realize new possibilities for generations to come," Fitzgerald noted.

Women have come a long way in government since 1933, when then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- at the strong urging of his wife, Eleanor -- appointed the first female cabinet secretary, Frances Perkins, as secretary of labor. Perkins was the champion for the national women's rights cause "Equal Pay for Equal Work," Fitzgerald noted.

Fitzgerald said the hopes and dreams of women in DoD are realized every day by the contributions of more than 220,000 women serving in civilian positions. This number represents more than a third of the total DoD workforce and more than 200,000 women serving on active duty. "The great news in these numbers is that women are given the opportunity to achieve their dreams - and they are achieving 'firsts' in many areas," Fitzgerald said.

DoD women serve in a remarkable array of positions -- teachers, firefighters, human resource specialists, air traffic controllers, tugboat captains, information technology specialists, scientists, engineers, prison guards, weapons system designers, and secretaries such as deputy undersecretaries, Fitzgerald said.

For instance, Fitzgerald said, they include women like Patricia Bradshaw, undersecretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, who presides over the personnel practices and policies for more than 700,000 DoD civilians. They also include women like Tina Jonas, undersecretary of defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer, who oversees DoD financial management activities including a budget of more than $400 billion dollars.

Fitzgerald also pointed to Sheila Widnall's appointment as secretary of the Air Force in 1993, which made her the first woman to serve as an armed forces secretary. In 1998, Lillian Fishburne became the first African-American woman to put on the Navy star to become a rear admiral.

In June 2005, Sgt. Ashley Pashley, of the Army Reserve's 40th Civil Affairs Battalion, was one of five soldiers awarded the first Combat Action Badge for her action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Last month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appointed Leslye A. Arsht as the deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy," Fitzgerald noted. "Leslye is one of the first DoD civilian woman to have served as part of the Iraq reconstruction effort. She was the senior advisor to Iraq 's Ministry of Education. In June 2005, Ms. Arsht was chosen to receive the Good Housekeeping Award for Women in the Government."

Noting that the percentage of woman serving in non- traditional occupations since 1995 has increased, Fitzgerald said, "In 2005, the ratio of female scientists has proportionally grown by about 20 percent and the ratio of engineers by about 45 percent since 1995."

The percentage of women in grades GS-13 through senior executive service increased from 18.9 percent in 1995 to 28.1 percent in 2005. The ranks of the women in the SES positions grew by 62 percent since 1995, and women now hold 20 percent of DoD SES positions, Fitzgerald said.

"These achievements are possible because as a community we are better educated," Fitzgerald noted. "DoD civilian women have demonstrated an increase in the percentage of those holding bachelor's degrees or higher from 23 percent in 1995 to 32 percent in 2005, with 62 percent more women possessing masters degrees or above in 2005."

However, Fitzgerald said, even though those numbers are encouraging and women's accomplishments in DoD are beacons for others to follow, there's much work to be done. "Women are underrepresented in science, technology, mathematics and engineering fields," she noted. "This challenge is exacerbated by the national shortage of women studying these disciplines at the university level and making careers in related fields."

And women still are underrepresented in DoD's senior executive service. Rumsfeld has asked his leadership team to "get more energy" into increasing the representation of women and minorities in general and flag officer positions and in senior executive service positions, Fitzgerald said.

"Today," she told the audience, "we celebrate and give thanks for the community of DoD women who have and are forging paths and accomplished firsts for those of us in this room and for our daughters to come. We must be mindful that as a community of DoD women we are but one part of a greater whole necessary to accomplish the DoD mission. We're part of the total force, which is comprised of men and women in the military and civilian work force."

Contact Author

Marilee Fitzgerald

Related Sites:
Women in Military Service for America Memorial

Related Articles:
Women Climbing Success Ladder in Military, DoD Civilian Work Force

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