Women in the Military: African-American Military Women: Soaring beyond the Glass Ceiling

By Boyd, Charles E. | Diversity Employers, February 1998 | Go to article overview

Women in the Military: African-American Military Women: Soaring beyond the Glass Ceiling


Boyd, Charles E., Diversity Employers


The military has been hailed as a national model for equal opportunity. No affirmative action has been required for the past fifty years to ensure the rights of employment, training, equal salaries or advancement for anyone; women included!

Here's a look at the Service as it was in 1948.

It took Public Law 625, the Women's Armed Service Integration Act, signed by President Harry S. Truman on June 12, 1948, for women to have regular military status, thus opening the doors for "accepted" service to their country. That led to women having the right to have occupational-fields jobs in medical, nursing, dental and laboratories as technicians.

Look now at the way it is today in 1998.

It would take a law signed by President Bill Clinton "to keep women out" of the military. What's the chance of that happening? None. Why? The achievements and accomplishments of women in the military have given them a place equal to that of men. Boardrooms are being filled with women who have the abilities, respect and confidence of their superiors and peers to get the job done; African-American women included!

Of special note is an African-American woman such as Brigadier General Mary L. Saunders, U.S. Air Force, who is serving at the Pentagon in a position that provides guidance pertaining to over 32,000 personnel, their training and $3.8 billion of transportation assets. Saunders, the highest ranking African-American woman in the Air Force, has held many leadership positions since she began her career in 1971 and has capitalized on the military's education programs that have enabled her to complete her master of arts degree and recently complete a National Security Leadership course at Johns Hopkins University. "Being a professional in all that I do," states Saunders, "is tantamount to succeeding." "I also take great pride in being a mentor and role model for all women in the military. That is why I am a member of the American Association of University Women and the National Association for Female Executives," said Saunders.

Shattering the "military" corporate ceiling along with Saunders are Captain Lillian E. Fishburne, U.S. Navy, and Colonel Gilda A. Jackson, U.S. Marine Corps, Fishburne has the distinct honor of being recently selected to be promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, a first. She will become the highest ranking African-American female in the Navy Fishburne attributes her success over the past 25 years to being focused in her commitment to doing every job held well and by asking no more from someone else than she has been willing to do herself. "Every promotion or job assignment I get makes me more confident and draws upon my strengths and wisdom to do it correctly," states Fishburne. Rear Admiral (Select) Fishburne is a wise woman, demonstrated by her having completed two master's degrees (M.A., Management & M.S., Telecommunications Systems Management) since graduating from Lincoln University in 1971 with a bachelor degree in sociology.

Jackson's recent promotion to colonel in the Marine Corps sets another first in the history of that service. …

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