Talent Management 2030, released by the Commandant of the Marine Corps on November 3, 2021, is an attempt to refine and improve Marine Corps recruiting and retention practices to model certain systems and trends after the private sector American. He acknowledges that the Marine Corps “is no longer fit for today’s needs” and must “better leverage and develop the unique skills and strengths” of the force. One element that shouldn’t just be lip serviced is the new emphasis on career flexibility, especially for female Marines coming out of childbirth and nursing.
Former Secretary of Defense Mattis boasted that he had served alongside men and women in combat, leaving no doubt as to the quality, character and lethality of women in combat despite his reservations about integrating women into specialties specific combat weapons. The deadliest and most capable Marines I’ve led are women. Some of the smartest Marines I know in our command are women. The only officer in my company at The Basic School who received the combat action ribbon was a woman. That fact is, we have phenomenal female Marines who have the same cunning and cunning as their male counterparts, but unlike their male counterparts, they carry the brunt of family planning and it has a much more direct and profound impact on their career. Parental leave reforms are a great start, and while the Marine Corps is serious about retaining talent, supporting female Marines who are starting families is a serious gap in our culture that needs to be addressed.
When an Infantry Marine is injured, they want to get back into the fight and prove to themselves and others that they are the same – or better – than they were before the injury. Similarly, I have observed the same motivation in female Marines (and civilians) when returning from maternity leave or leaving limited service after giving birth. In my Marines I see them pushing themselves so much harder than necessary or required and I suspect it’s because of the perceived stigma that they’ve dropped command in their absence or have to justify their absence by doubling or tripling their efforts now to make up for lost time. Everything is key to the ground that must be seized and the commandments allow that to happen. Leaders let these Marines sacrifice more and more, over and over again, regardless of the operational tempo (or lack thereof). There is no tactical pause to assess (with this Marine) what is mission critical and what is not. This happens because the command doesn’t want to be perceived as seeing the female Marine any differently than a male or worse – they believe the female is lacking because she wasn’t present at the time. Either mindset is ridiculous and will ensure that the Corps will continue to lose highly trained Marines.
My expectations for my Marines are high. I do my best to communicate clearly with them and mentor them throughout the reporting period. When the mission is most critical, the why is most important, especially when it means sacrificing time away from family. However, the mission is rarely so critical that the arbitrary and drastic sacrifices I see Marines making time and time again are necessary. I trust my Marines and they trust me. When a Marine is going through a significant life event – childbirth, death, injury – these are the times when we need to take that tactical pause and assess what we need from the Marine and what the rest of the team can handle. If I say to my Marine, “No, you don’t have to do that. We get it,” it’s not me compromising my standards or weakening the institution. Encouraging postpartum female Marines to take time off, waivers, and other administrative measures that ensure their health and keep them in the fight is precisely aligned with talent management. While I expect my Marines to be trained and the company to have good administration, not everything is mission critical where we can’t accommodate our Marines from time to time. If you train your Marines as a team, the team must be able to provide continuity when someone is temporarily absent or physically removed from company spaces. Good Marines will meet high expectations, especially when there is mutual trust between them and their leaders.
As the commander noted, “[T]he rigidity of the personnel system limits our ability to adapt to the changing professional interests and family situations of our Marines. . . resulting in lost retention opportunities. Is it easier to have your Marines physically present and engaged at all times? Absoutely. Are they mission critical? Maybe, but certainly not always. Marines shouldn’t feel penalized for putting family first once in a while; it’s not always a zero-sum game. This institutional thinking and altered mindset can help avoid the stigma that the Marine Corps is not compatible with families, especially for female Marines.
The private sector continues to grapple with these same issues – adapting and reforming work environments to support the workforce in balancing work and family. The Marine Corps is far behind. Part of this is inherent in combat and war training activities. There will always be deployments and exercises. However, it’s refreshing to see the Commander specifically call out career inflexibility as long as we don’t pay lip service to it in overall talent management. Leaders must adapt immediately and begin to implement these directives at the platoon and company level. There must be buy-in at all levels of command so that these practices are not localized or personality driven. If we don’t address this, we will lose some very talented female Marines who want to continue serving after starting a family and believe they have to push themselves to be on par. There is “boat room” for these Marines and it hurts combat readiness to lose good people to thoughtless leadership.
Richard Protzman is a captain in the Marine Corps Reserves and a student at the Command and Staff College. He is a civil attorney in Southern California and has published with Marine Corps University, Real Clear Defense, and Real Clear Policy, among others.
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