Women serving in the US Army’s elite Special Operations Forces face significant discrimination, including sexual harassment and sexism, from their male counterparts and are required to wear equipment that does not suit them. they look good, according to a new study by the US Army Special Operations Command.
The Women in Army Special Operations study, which was conducted in 2021 and released Monday, found that women still faced discriminatory and sexist barriers to fully integrating into the special operations community.
Among the findings was “overtly sexist sentiment” among male senior NCOs and company-grade officers toward their female colleagues, shown in anonymous comments leaders acknowledged Monday as misogynistic. Another finding was that “nearly all female soldiers” at ARSOF are equipped with ill-fitting body armor, a problem that has plagued female service members for years, leaving many of them having to buy their own. .
“It’s not good to have it, it’s a must,” Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga, USASOC commander, said Monday of having women in special operations. “If you just take the protection of the United States and the most critical threats that we have, we need everyone when you talk about defending our nation, not just in the Military but on a macro scale. … It is central to our mission.”
While the study outlines a number of problems, which Braga called “disappointing,” it also laid out actions USASOC has taken to address the study’s 48 recommendations.
The US Army Special Operations Command has designated a leader of the “Women in ARSOF Initiative,” for example, which “focuses on women-specific modernization efforts…mentorship and sponsorship, and health and preparation. Additional funding for child care centers has been secured for the 7th Special Forces Group, whose soldiers the study revealed have “considerable problems” with the location of the facilities.
There are plans to take further action. The study’s findings, for example, will be integrated into the onboarding process for soldiers going to the Army’s Special Warfare Center and School, and leaders seek to increase mentoring opportunities for women. USASOC is also developing a command-wide “dating etiquette course” to raise awareness of sexual harassment and assault, a course that has already been introduced to the 75th Ranger Regiment.
During a media roundtable on Monday, USASOC Command Sgt. Major JoAnne Naumann stressed that the study is “not about accommodations for women” but about providing “tools that allow women to maximize their performance and continue to serve at all levels.”
“I am proud that we took this initial step to look at ourselves and see where our organization was at,” Braga said in a press release Monday. “Addressing the issues identified in the study will be important as we work to recruit and retain the top talent that Army special operations units need to be successful.”
Less than 10% of special operations forces are women, according to a Government Accountability Office report released this year. More than 100 women had graduated from the grueling Army Ranger School as of March 2022, and in 2020 the first woman joined the ranks of the elite Green Berets. On Monday, Braga said there are fewer than 10 female Green Berets and they are “making a fantastic difference and changing people’s minds with how awesome they are.”
But for decades before those milestones, women have served alongside special operations forces. In fact, Braga recalled women who served in special operations capacities dating back to the Revolutionary War, calling women a “critical” component to formations.
“We have women serving in every capacity, every one: Special Forces, civil affairs, psychological operations, our special operations aviation element, our Rangers and our facilitators,” Braga said Monday. “Everyone has women, and they are critical to our success around the world today. And he couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Split in how men and women perceive challenges
While the study raised a number of specific challenges, it showed a clear overall divide in how men and women in ARSOF units perceived some of the challenges women face.
The study found that 40% of women say that gender bias in the workplace is a problem, and that the sexist comments made by the men who responded to the survey represented “common sentiment” and “not They were atypical.” Those comments included comments that women have “no place” on a special forces team.
The survey quotes a senior NCO as saying that women who go to special operations units “are looking for a husband, boyfriend or attention.” Another said he “dreads the day a woman makes it to a team and I hope I’ll be retired by the time that happens.”
Naumann said Monday that many of the comments are “ignorant” and “just because people are uneducated and don’t understand.”
The women who participated in the study also agreed that they and other women must meet standards to serve in ARSOF units and in positions of authority, and did not want standards lowered or women held positions simply because they are women. . . But almost half of the men still believed that the standards had become easier for women, according to the study.
The women who participated in the survey described a relentless effort to prove themselves on a daily basis, while their male counterparts do not face the same scrutiny.
“I have to work hard to prove my excellence, while men have to work hard to prove their mediocrity,” said one woman.
“During deployment, I realized through several candid conversations with various men that the battle to be seen as competent despite my gender would be there for my entire ARSOF career due to longstanding assumptions and opinions about women’s abilities. women,” said another. “I’ve proven myself to the men I’ve worked with only to be told ‘I’m the exception to the rule’, my success didn’t seem to contribute to the overall negative view of women that many of these men have.”
And despite one in three women saying sexual harassment is a problem, the study found that there are “exceptionally low” reports of harassment among women because they fear retaliation, ostracism and the end of their careers.
“Women simply do not report sexual harassment,” the study said.
The men surveyed, however, said they were “hesitant” or “afraid” to interact with the women in their unit for fear of being accused of harassment, assault or having an inappropriate relationship. The men also told investigators they were concerned that their spouses would object to their working closely together and deploying with a woman.
Despite various challenges, the study ultimately found that 57% of women in ARSOF believed the culture was better than in the conventional military, and that the majority of women (72%) would support their daughter’s decision to leave. serve in ARSOF.
“I felt less gender discrimination at ARSOF than at the mainstream,” said one official. “It’s about performance, not reputation.”
Braga acknowledged Monday that efforts to address the troubling findings are just beginning and that it will take time to change the culture of the community.
“It’s not just a briefing, and we talk forcefully, we talk to a person, it takes time,” Braga said. “But I think I think we’re on the right track… but we have to be better, we have to be better because our nation depends on us.”