When the Defense Department surveyed troops in 2021 on their experiences in the workplace regarding gender, the findings revealed significant room for improvement ― particularly in the Marine Corps.
Now, the Corps is bringing on new staff members in the latest effort to address this cultural trend. The service revealed its plans in a briefing presented to the Pentagon’s Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services in March.
In the Marine Corps active component specifically, 13.4% of women surveyed reported unwanted sexual contact, as did 1.5% of men ― the highest rate of any military service.
Among female Marines, rates of reported sexual harassment and gender discrimination were both up from the previous survey period in 2018: 40.1% of respondents reported sexual harassment, compared with 31.9% the last survey period; and 23.9% reported gender discrimination, compared with 21.7%. Rates for male Marines remained roughly steady for both periods.
“The Marine Corps plans to hire two training specialist(s) that will be dedicated to updating all Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) training,” a briefing slide reviewed by Marine Corps Times states. “That training will include statistical findings that will inform discussions with an end result of creating a culture that will combat behaviors that contribute to gender discrimination and other harmful behaviors.”
The two positions will include a lead training specialist and a specialist, Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Jordan Cochran said via email.
While both positions are still in the development and classification process at the Corps’ Human Resources and Organizational Management branch, Cochran said the lead training specialist eventually will be located at Marine Corps headquarters in the Pentagon, and the training specialist will be at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, home of the Defense Department’s Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, or DEOMI.
The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, a research lab and training center, administers the organizational climate surveys used at military units to identify signs of toxic leadership or other cultural problems.
“The Lead Training Specialist will collaborate with (Marine Corps Training and Education Command) to provide comprehensive, standardized, and interactive annual and PME training for every stage of the Marines career progression,” Cochran said.
“They will also incorporate (equal opportunity) training into the Cornerstone course that will include anonymous real-world examples of commanders relieved for failures to comply with (Military Equal Opportunity) requirements. The Training Specialist will work with DEOMI to develop a formal curriculum that is Service specific for (equal opportunity adviser) trainings.”
Cornerstone is a two-week combined commandership course administered by the commandant of the Marine Corps and offered to unit commanders, recruiting station commanding officers and sergeants major. In building new equal opportunity components into Cornerstone, the Marine Corps appears to be reinforcing the message that cultural change begins at the top.
The presentation delivered to Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services in March highlights some of the survey data that supported this approach.
The survey, it states, showed that 84% of female and 91% of male Marines who reported gender discrimination said their experience included being “mistreated, ignored, excluded, or insulted” due to gender. And nearly 70% of Marines who reported discrimination incidents said it occurred in the presence of other Marines, with nobody intervening.
“Based on the findings and the results, the Marine Corps is able to identify trends and risk factors that are contributing to harmful behaviors … which will assist the training specialists in tailoring MEO training and education to address trends and provide relevant examples that Service members can relate to,” the presentation states. “Collaboration with the Integrated Primary Prevention Workforce (IPPW) and Equal Opportunity Advisors (EOAs) is providing prevention training and activities such as bystander intervention, included in MEO annual training, which will provide service members the tools and skill to intervene in a safe and effective way.”
The Marine Corps historically has had the highest rates of reported sexual harassment and assault, a fact partially correlated with its exceptionally young population and low percentage of female service members.
Officials could not immediately say when the two new specialists would begin work or what their benchmarks for success would be.
The new Marine Corps hiring initiative comes as the Defense Department redoubles calls for organizational change to counter the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault.
In an April 26 memo to all the military service chiefs and secretaries and other top Defense Department personnel, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros called these issues “persistent and corrosive problems” and pushed for better response tracking mechanisms, new measures to support and care for survivors, and strategies to support this year’s forcewide climate assessment.
“The unprecedented investments we are making now and in forthcoming years are intended to restore the trust of our service members, as well as those considering military service,” Cisneros wrote.
Hope Hodge Seck is an award-winning investigative and enterprise reporter covering the U.S. military and national defense. The former managing editor of Military.com, her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Politico Magazine, USA Today and Popular Mechanics.