What Women Bring to the Fight

By Haring, Ellen L. | Parameters, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

What Women Bring to the Fight


Haring, Ellen L., Parameters


ABSTRACT: The recent decision to integrate the US military fully was met with a range of emotions. For some it was a misguided decision that would erode combat effectiveness and have negative consequences for US security. Various objections were raised to justify keeping women out of combat units but most have been demolished by ten years of combat. This article exposes the flaws in two of the more persistent objections: (1) the presence of women in combat units will erode the vital bond that develops between men and (2) women are not as strong as men and so put male soldiers at risk.

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The recent decision to integrate women fully into the military was met with a range of controversy and emotions on several fronts. For women and many men in the military it was a quietly celebrated milestone. For women outside the military it was lauded as a step toward true equality. For others, it was viewed as a misguided decision that would ultimately erode the combat effectiveness of the military and have negative consequences for US national security. Before the current conflict, a veritable potpourri of objections was raised to justify keeping women out of combat units; almost all those objections have fallen away in the last ten years. The American public has not objected to women being killed or wounded in combat any more than it has to men. Personal hygiene and privacy has not been problematic. Women can keep pace on long-range patrols, and the performance of men overall does not degrade when fighting alongside women. Data from the 2011 class at West Point reveals over 52 percent of female cadets, albeit a select group, passed the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) using the male standards. (1) In short, a percentage of women are just as physically capable as men.

Moreover, as new research suggests, women can enhance the combat capabilities of the military from the squad to the joint staff without impairing cohesion. Cohesion is not just linked to common traits such as race, ethnicity, or gender but is based on collective goals and objectives. Recent research also shows small-unit cohesion is not impaired by the addition of women, as once thought. The comments below are intended to reveal what new research says about the benefits of including women at all levels and all branches of the military.

Collective Intelligence

Carnegie Mellon and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have partnered to examine group or collective intelligence to understand how to optimize team performance. The research shows groups are collectively more intelligent than individuals on a range of simple to complex tasks. Additionally, the research found that a group's collective intelligence tends to increase as the percentage of women in the group increases. Researchers believe this may be due to a trait they call "social sensitivity" which reflects how well a person can read the emotions of other people. The ability to perceive and sense emotional changes leads to more collaborative patterns of group behavior and women tend to score higher than men in this category. (2) The chart below shows the relational impact the percentage of women in a group had on the collective intelligence of 192 teams tested on a range of simple to complex tasks.

The study also revealed groups whose conversation is dominated by a single person, or a small portion of the population, are collectively less intelligent than groups where communication is evenly shared. Researchers found groups with more women tended to have a more even communications distribution pattern. (3)

If this research is applied to the military, it suggests adding women can strengthen every organization. Our teams, from small unit infantry squads which as yet have no women, to the joint staff, which has less than 20 percent women, are potentially less intelligent than they could be if we were to optimize what women bring to the collective intelligence of groups. …

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