Navy leaders want women to make up a quarter of the force within a decade.

TheyNavy leaders say reaching that "critical mass" will improve the Navy's talent base and aid in countering problems like workplace harassment, and they are laying out an ambitious slew of deals to entice more women to sign up and stay in. But a sea change is will be needed to come anywhere near this ambitious milestone, with women leaving at a much higher rate. Navy leaders have set a goal to raise the percentage of women in the ranks to at least 25 percent, perhaps higher. They hope to reach that "critical mass" milestone in 10 years by increasing accessions and enticing more women to remain in uniform via special programs.

Navy Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has now lent his support to what Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard has been saying for the past few months — the Navy not only needs to needs to raise the number of women in the ranks, ensuring that a quarter of every ship, squadron or wardroom isare women. but also ensure that a quarter of the sailors and officers on every ship and in every squadron are women. At the same time, the service must also open all operational billets to women who can qualify for them.

The 25 percent figure is important, Howard told Navy Times in March, because it is the tipping point for women to be fullytotally accepted into the workforce and not feel isolated.

Still, It's a road the Navy must go down, Navy leaders say, if the service hopes to recruit the best people available. Women constitute nearly half of the U.S. workforce, and outnumber men at have an even larger presence on U.S. universitiesy campuses.

Personnel Officials say the Navy would be selling itself short if it didn't expand opportunities for women to serve, which has been a hallmark of Mabus' six-year tenure.

"We need more women in the Navy and Marine Corps, not simply to have more women, but because a more diverse force is a stronger force," Mabus told Naval Academy midshipmen May 13. told this year's graduating seniors in a seminal address at the Naval Academy May 13. "We need educated officers, and women represent 57 percent of college graduates in America."

"In the fleet, this year, we are also increasing female enlisted accessions, emphasizing those ratings in which women are underrepresented."

The retention battle for female sailors will be crucial. But if the Navy's going to reach its goal of 25 to 30 percent women on all ships and squadrons in the next decade, as planned, the retention battle will be critical. To that end, the service has spent a good deal of time and money trying to come up with solutions. They include expanding the Career Intermission Program, improving the availability of child care programs on base, and providing more flexibility for dual military couple assignments.

CIP will increase boost more spots and wider eligibility. Child care hours will be extended by four hours, two in the morning and two in the evening, to help working parents. And women will be eligible for twice as much paid maternity leave, 12 weeks instead of six.

As of March 31, women comprised about 187.97 percent of the Navy's active-duty workforce — 18.07 percent in the enlisted ranks and 17.02 percent in the officer corps.

The greatest numbers of women are in the junior lower enlisted and officer ranks, which tend to drop off sharply by the and the numbers drop off steeply starting at the E-5 and O-4 paygrades, according to official figures provided by Navy Personnel Command. If the brass hopes to have any success, they will need to keep more women in for careers. The challenge is to keep more of them as they progress toward senior enlisted and officer ranks.

For example, the force currently boasts Navy currently has 254.51 percent women among seamen recruits. That drops to around 20 percent through E-4, then 17 percent at E-5. Women represent 121.6 percent of chief petty officers and of their E-1's are women and women represent one-fifth of the enlisted force through E-4, the percentages hold in the 20 percent range through E-4, but at E-5 the ratio it slips to 16.99 percent. By the time sailors reach and by the time you get to chief petty officer, women represent just 11.55 percent of the workforce. Only 755 percent of master chiefs in the Navy are women.

Similarly, about 21 percent of O-1s and O-2s are women, but only , but just 1918.92 percent of lieutenants. Women comprise 12 .12 percent of Navy captains.

One success story: women account for many more admirals in 2015 than they did only a few years ago. They represent 12 percent of vice admirals, up from 32.6 percent only four years earlier. The greatest improvement in the officer corps over the past five years has come at the three- and four-star admiral level. In 2011, women accounted for just 2.56 percent of vice admirals; today, slightly more than 12 percent.

Vice Chief of Naval OperationsAdm. Michelle Howard talks about the importance of bringing more women into the service during an all-hands call on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, May 14.

Photo Credit: MC2 Diana Quinlan/Navy

Women tend to concentrate in a handful of ratings and are vastly underrepresented in others, the figures show. While the overall percentages tell one story, the way women are dispersed across the fleet tells another.

Female sailors are most heavily concentrated in the administrative and supply communities, at 31.327 percent and 25.11 percent, respectively. About 21 percent of surface operations and cyber, 19 percent of aviation and 17 percent of the surface engineering communities are women.

On the other hand, few women serve in the Seabees and even fewer as Navy divers or explosive ordnance disposal technicians, where they represent less than 1 percent. Where women aren't is in both the Navy diver and explosive ordnance disposal ratings; less than 1 percent of those members are women. Seabees, too, at 14 percent, have a ways to go to reach a critical mass of 25 percent.

Women are underrepresented at sea, too. As of May 8, women filled 165.6 percent of sea duty billets, and 22 percent of shore duty billets. They account for at or above the overall percentage through E-4, but account for just 8.9 percent of chiefs on sea duty, and the picture gets worse at E-8 and E-9.

Officials are hoping to boost the number of women at sea, noting there are fewer impediments for women to find sea duty billets than just a few years ago. The situation will only get better as older ships like frigates and attack subs platforms are decommissioned and new ships are built from the keel up to accommodate more women.

"With the exception of [no] enlisted female berthing on [coastal patrol ships], [mine countermeasures ships] and [frigates], PCs, MCMs and FFGs, it was found that more women can be accommodated at sea because all new construction since 1994 has been completed to a gender-neutral standard, and most ships built prior to 1994 have had berthing modifications for women," said Cmdr. Renee Squier[cq], head of enlisted plans and policy for the chief of naval personnel.

This means, she said, that more berthing on nearly all platforms can accommodate women as well as men — without needing alterations.

Raising the number of women in the force is a two-pronged battle being waged by recruiters and fleet Navy counselors — a rating that's nearly 46 percent women itself.

On the recruiting side, officials say they're making progress. it's going well, officials say. In fiscal 2014, the Navy brought in 23.1 percent women and has upped that to 25.1 percent this year. Next fiscal year, it's slated to increase slightly.again to 25.2 percent.

The goal is to gradually ramp up both officer and enlisted accessions to reach a goal of somewhere between 25 and 30 percent women by fiscal 2025.

As part of the push, recruiters are concentrating on sending putting more of these female recruits into women in what, in the past, have been called non-traditional ratings, an effort that personnel officials say is key to increasing overall female representation.

"The initial increases were primarily taken in 24 of the 47 sea-centric and sea-intensive ratings, based on female manning, recruitability, and lifecycle retainability," Squier said. "A Female Rating Accessions Strategy Working Group has been stood up to examine additional factors such as: rating desirability, civilian counterpart data, retention, and attrition data on all 84 of the Navy ratings to further examine which ratings would be favorable for greater female numbers."

In the four ratings initially targeted, the numbers of women have climbed steadily. They now make up 23.19 percent of aviation ordnancemen, 24.63 percent of operations specialists and 19.26 percent of gas turbine systems technicians (mechanical) ratings.

The toughest battle for the Navy has been in retaining women beyond their first and second enlistments. Another challenge has come in the chiefs ranks, officials say. Female chiefs retire right at 20 years at a higher rate than their male counterparts.

Simply raising the number of women in the ranks could convince more women to stay, officials say.

"While a concrete critical mass percentage has not been determined," Squier said, "studies have shown roughly 25 to 30 percent female representation may positively influence retention."

CHART to go with the story:

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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