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Women Rising to Higher Positions in the Military

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Updated April 03, 2005
by Rudi Williams

ARLINGTON, VA) -- Women are rising to increasingly higher levels in the Defense Department, a DOD official said during the department’s Women’s History Month observance here March 30.

The nation’s security relies on the quality and commitment of people who serve in uniform and the civilian employees who support them, said Janet Hoffheins, deputy director of DOD Civilian Personnel Management Service’s, human resources automated systems.

“A large part of that workforce is, and will continue to be, composed of highly competent and dedicated women,” Ms. Hoffheins said. “As we move forward into the 21st century, our challenge is to ensure that the department attracts and retains the best and brightest … the right people with the right skills to achieve the mission.

“This is more of a challenge today than it has ever been in the past because of significant changes in the labor market,” she said.

A recent study shows the federal government is experiencing a recruitment and retention crisis, and that the problems will worsen in the future as demographic and technological changes occur, Ms. Hoffheins said. Officials said the problems would pose a major risk to the continued quality of government services and programs.

“Attracting and recruiting quality people for defense positions becomes the crucial first step in support of readiness,” Ms. Hoffheins said.

She said improving the skills of the existing workforce, while at the same time recruiting and educating new people, is a top priority of the department.

DOD officials have always been successful in ensuring that opportunities are there for women in the work place, Ms. Hoffheins said.

Using data sources from the Defense Manpower Data Center and the U.S. Census Bureau, she compared the status of DOD women in 1995 to their status in 2004.

She said statistics show that officer and enlisted women on active duty increased from 13 percent to 15 percent.

The report also shows the number of active-duty women officers increased in several nontraditional occupations, such as engineering and maintenance, tactical operations, and supply and procurement. The same is true for enlisted women, in the areas of tactical operation and supply and procurement.

“DOD civilian women have also made some gains in the professional and technical occupations,” Ms. Hoffheins said. “Their numbers have increased from 42 percent in 1995 to 45 percent in 2004 in those fields.”

In the higher grades, the proportion of active-duty women in the grade of major and above increased from 11.2 percent to 12.7 percent in 2004. The same is true for active-duty women in the grade of master sergeant and above, who went from 8.3 percent to 9.6 percent in 2004.

“In the grades GS-13 through senior executive service, the percentage of women increased from 18.9 percent in 1995 to 27.5 percent in 2004,” she said.

Ms. Hoffheins said the top five occupations in 2004 for the active-duty women officers were nurses, physicians, biomedical sciences and allied health officers, health services administration officers, and manpower and personnel.

The top five occupations for the active-duty enlisted women were general administration, supply administration, general personnel, general medical care and treatment, and operators and analysts.

The top five DOD civilian occupations for the women were management and program analysis, contract specialist, information technology management (formerly computer specialist), administration and program management, human resources management and general attorney.

Ms. Hoffheins said when people think of mission readiness -- recruitment and retention -- they must also think of education because the educational level of DOD’s military and civilian workforce is an important component of readiness.

For college level, she said, in 1995, 20 percent of active-duty women earned bachelor’s degrees or higher, and 23 percent of civilian women earned those same degrees. In 2004, 19 percent of active-duty and 31 percent of DOD civilian women earned bachelor’s degrees or higher.

“Women are also a significant factor in creating diversity in a workforce,” Ms. Hoffheins said. “Diversity can improve organizational performance, improve work place relations, build more effective work teams and improve customer service.”

“(DOD has) long been known to have a more diverse workforce than the overall U.S. labor force,” she said. “The female active-duty force is even more diverse than the female DOD civilian and U.S. labor forces.”

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