This is, in a fashion, a guest post. After an exchange of a few emails with a regular reader, a story emerged that brought a personal, first person account of what many of us have run into now and then – the source of group think and the resulting inability of Senior Leadership to get hard questions and direct opinions from the Fleet when they ask for it.

Sure, this is about Life/Work – but most of us have seen the same pattern when it comes to other subjects where “discussion” really means “listen to my opinion and agree with it,” and “consensus” results from the aggressive silencing of opposing opinions. We all know that all it takes is the wrong person to own paper on you for one or two FITREP cycles — and there you go. Hang one; subdue 1,000.

I invited the author, an officer I know personally but is anon by request here, to tell her story and let me post it. This story is an example of what happens when a person stands up for the truth and states their honest opinion.

If Senior Leadership wants to know why there is such silence at “Admiral’s Call” – or that they get stale questions and comments from the peanut gallery – or that many Navy bloggers feel the need to hide their actual identity, this may help explain why.

It was during my first tour on active duty, while I was still a very junior junior officer, and hadn’t quite realized that when an O-8 asks for your honest opinion, what they really mean is “I might want your opinion, I might not, but if you are honest with me, as pleased as I may appear with your candidness, you’ve just pissed on the shoes of someone junior to me, but senior to you, who will indeed make you pay for your honesty.” I learned this lesson the hard way.

A number of female officers were rounded up for a series of focus groups with our Admiral. The focus of the focus group was to address, what else, diversity issues in the community as they relate to gender. How can we make our community more “female friendly.”

Of course the first topic on the agenda was telecommuting. Because what we need to retain qualified and competent women is not a ground level addressing of the lingering bastions of institutionalized sexism, not an acknowledgment that some of our officers are indeed still Neanderthals when it comes to their views of women, as the fleet reflects society, and society is still pretty darn sexist, no this daily hostility to the fact that you exist couldn’t possibly be one of the factors why many of our talented females seek higher pay elsewhere after growing tired of abusive work environments. No. Really, the only reason we lose women is because they’d rather stay home with their children than go to the office. You see how the suggested solution really proves the true root of the problem. This may come as a surprise, but not all women want to be stay home mothers. Kudos to those who do, and who feel that is the best choice for their family. But it’s not the choice for everyone. Certainly not the choice for me.

So as it came my turn as the token “young single JO” at the table (it was quite clear what demographic I was chosen to represent) I raised the following points: (1) This is the military. And we are officers. We don’t give our enlisted women, with lower pay, and frequently less stable extended families, the luxury of working from home, so we should lead by example. (2) Someone has to man the fort, so while some telecommute, who will be working the harder, longer hours to pick up the slack? Oh, right…me. The one who has already been doing all the travel, all the inconvenient TAD, all the holiday duty, and generally all the unpleasant heavy lifting because I’m the one “without a family”. And this is with fellow officers who work a full day in the office. Allowing them to just stay home? I can see where this will go. No. I don’t like telecommunitng.

At this point I should have noticed I was going against the “life work balance” agenda and shut up. But on we moved to the next topic: The career sabbatical.

This is a brilliant idea in which officers will be able to just “take a break” from the Navy for up to three years and then have their lineal number retroactively adjusted so they won’t have to compete against people with three years more work performance. Of course, you will have to apply for this option, and spots are extremely limited (so you can already see the potential for those with special snowflake syndrome managing to garner even more preferential treatment while everyone else has to suck it up and make do…no, that won’t be a morale issue down the road at all), and there is no set reason for the sabbatical. However, we all know the unspoken reason…again, it’s so that women can have babies without penalty. I somehow doubt if I submitted a sabbatical package to backpack through Europe I would be approved. So again, I raised my concerns. First, the potential for this to become overly political, and second, the flat out unfairness of a system that allows some people to just “take a break” and then compete on equal footing with those who have continued to roll the stone uphill without interruption. Not to mention the fact that this program will likely just do more to entrench the negative and undeniably present views that the women in the fleet get coddled. I for one, would not take this option, even if it were offered to me on a silver platter, because I wouldn’t want to spoon feed people who want to dismiss me based on gender alone a superb argument that I am in fact a weaker officer. It will serve only to advance the careers of a select few, while systemically furthering the perception that women are not as strong as men to the detriment of many. So no, I don’t like the sabbatical either.

Finally, the topic came up about IA/GSA assignments to Iraq and Afghanistan. And several raised concerns that the precept language was unfair. That not everyone could leave behind their children to deploy, and it wasn’t fair that they be penalized at promotion time. My question was “why not?” We ask our enlisted sailors to deploy, to go to sea, to live as geo bachelors all the time. Male and female, married, and single parent, we expect our junior sailors to tough it up and make do. We need to lead by example. And those who shoulder the burden of more arduous assignments, especially while our country is fighting two wars, should indeed be rewarded. My only question about the deployment issue was “when do I get to go?”

So that was the meeting. Not a focus on how to address the root cause of the problem, that America is not nearly as advanced in gender relations as it claims to be (for proof of this, look at the disgraceful way the media portrayed Sara Palin and Hillary Clinton during the presidential elections, and the way Ms. Clinton, whether I approve of her politics or not, has been marginalized in what should be one of our most important offices) but instead, we focus on artificially creating different tracks for underperforming women in order to justify promoting them based on number rather than competence. And this is an insult to the many, many competent and strong women we have in the Navy, many of whom I’ve had the honor of considering mentors. Ask any female E-9 if she’d like to telecommute, or “take some time off of her career” and let me know how she responds. The problem I saw in these programs is that the women we want to retain, would never, ever take advantage of them. They will bend over backwards to reach their own work life balance without complaint or intervention from big Navy because they want to be seen as capable. Those that need the time off, or the extra time to organize….I have to ask “why can she do it, but you can’t? Is it gender, or is it you?” And yes, it is hard, and yes, you have to make a choice. Be a career woman, or a homemaker, or somewhere in between, but whichever you chose comes at a price. You cannot have it all…but guess what? Neither can the men. How much time does a 4 star truly spend with his family? How many men have been passed over because they homesteaded to let their kids finish high school rather than taking the career-maker billet? It’s a choice we all have to make. And all I ask is that *I* make that choice for myself. Not because society has told me it’s the choice I ought to make. And all these programs, these life-work initiatives, are predicated on the idea that the woman should be choosing family and so we need to make it easier for the woman to choose family over career without penalty. It’s reinforcing the root problem. And that’s why I hate it. But I digress.

Now, I wasn’t the only person at these meeting voicing dissent. Actually several women spoke out. But I was the most junior. And somehow my opinions made it to my department head, who is very much a proponent of life-work initiatives. Who has never gone to sea. Who will never deploy. But who insists from her ivory tower of liberal feminism that she needs to be treated as an equal for less than equal career performance. She was not pleased with me, and I received a verbal counseling on my “attitude” and my “teamwork”. I was confused. I thought I remained respectful and polite in voicing my opinion, afterall, wasn’t that the point of the focus group? Didn’t the Admiral *want* to know what women thought? And teamwork? What team did I betray? And that’s when I realized my error. In the diversity industry, I am the wrong kind of woman. I want to deploy, I want to support the war, I want to serve in [REDACTED], and I want to pull my weight. I am the biggest threat to the agenda, because I am proof that even with the undeniable sexist attitudes that linger in this country, and the fleet, I can succeed without their help. I am the wrong kind of woman for their agenda.

So I took my counseling, [REDACTED] and, upon the advice of a truly great Naval Officer, I got over the sting and realized that the only person who could ever define my worth as an officer was me. So it was a learning experience, but not the end of the world.

Now I know better than to offer my opinion, as a woman, if it doesn’t align with the preconceived notions of what women need from the Navy. And if a woman can’t speak her mind about when programs to promote women have possibly gone too far without being blacklisted, I shudder to think how a man with my opinion would be treated.

Again, it’s not sexism to simply want our female officers to perform equally, as they have demonstrated time and time again they can. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

That may not be a Conversation with the Country – but it is the word from Phib’s front porch.

‘Nuff said.

Crossposted.




Posted by CDRSalamander in Uncategorized


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  • Jim Dolbow

    Sounds like we have just found ourselves another guest blogger! Great post Phib

  • Fouled Anchor

    I worked with a lot of women during my career. Among them were some of the best and some of the worst shipmates, mentors, and leaders. The woman quoted is a very fine example for women and men alike.

    And yes, it is far too common to pay a price for being honest.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Some handy translation is required here.

    “I appreciate your candor.” = You’re screwed for telling me something I don’t agree with.

    “Life-work balance” = The lousy ones get “life” (and pay), the good ones get work (and the same pay).

    “Diversity” = Everyone had better have the same point of view.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    Ah, the old JO “We don’t want your opinion, we just want to make it seem like we want your opinion” wake-up call. Gosh, I hope she stays in, and deploys frequently. This one’s a keeper.

    VR,
    Andy

  • Joseph Magyar

    This is my kind of officer, she is bot male not female but a officer, She has my support and respect, JJ Magyar MGYGT USMC

  • Chaps

    “Give me your honest opinion; I don’t want any yes men (or women” This is how senior officers weed out the young and gullible.

  • FDNF PO3(SW)

    I take her point about many of the men in the Navy being Neanderthals. I’m stationed on one of the last surface ships not to have females, and our class is scheduled to start receiving the modifications necessary for female crew during a yard period next year.

    We had an Admiral visit, and I got a two minute handshake-and-hello when I showed him our crew’s rec. He chose to spend those two minutes apologizing to me or the fact we were going to get female shipmates. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

    I was completely speechless. No one had mentioned the female mod, and I hadn’t said two words more than “Good morning, sir,” let alone hinted that I didn’t want females on board. I have G.I. JANE in my DVD collection! As soon as the Admiral turned to leave, I gave our Captain a WTF look. The skipper shrugged and I could swear he even rolled his eyes a little bit.

    For the record, a female Admiral who has visited a couple times not only asks the enlisted sailors she meets how they’re doing (and gives every appearance of actually listening), she even personally chaired a STA-21 board for one of our second classes. If the females we get are half as professional and dedicated as CDR S’s guest blogger, they’ll make our ship a better place.

  • http://www.checkswithchart.com Fast Nav

    Whenever I hear “work/life balance” it usually means I have to work so someone else can have a life.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Funny how that happens, huh Fast Nav? Because we are the the only suckers without some sort of advocacy group.

  • Fouled Anchor

    Here’s another work/life situation a lot of leadership would probably rather not make the news.

    “Some shore commands in the Norfolk, Va., area report that up to 34 percent of their billets are filled by pregnant sailors, and commanders are complaining about a “lack of proper manning to conduct their mission,” according to a Naval Inspector General report.”

    So, does the new pregnancy policy encourage, or simply enable, parenthood?

    “Since shore assignments for pregnant sailors were extended two years ago, pregnancies Navy-wide have increased. The number of women leaving deploying units to have children rose from 1,770 in June 2006 to 3,125 as of Aug. 1.” – That’s a about a 43% increase.

    Full story here –
    http://www.navytimes.com/news/2009/10/navy_pregnancy_101709w/

    • FoilHatWearer

      No, that’s a 76% increase. When you calculate percent change, your original value (1770) has to be in the denominator, not the final (3125). Nitpickiness aside, the true 76% makes your point even more. Turning the navy into a maternity ward has not helped the service at all.

  • http://www.checkswithchart.com Fast Nav

    URR, you are most correct.

  • http://www.navycaptain-therealnavy.blogspot.com Mike Lambert

    I recall back in the 1990s when FLEXTIME was introduced at our HQ. Civilian employees were offered the opportunity to work 10 hrs a day for 4 days then take Fridays off. I think one had the option to work 9 hr days and take every other Friday off. Our deputy commander made it clear that no officers or CPOs would be participating in this program. It would have meant reducing our daily work hours AND giving us time off, to boot. NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

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