March 2017

Recruiting Enlisted Women

Finding the right balance between quality and quantity
Volume 101, Issue 3

LCpl Andrew Loftesnes

Capt Charles E. Broun
Quality always trumps quantity.
Photo by LCpl Aaron Bolser.


he success of an organization is based on the efforts, merits, and performance of each individual’s ability to collectively accomplish assigned missions. According to former Secretary of Defense (SecDef), Ashton Carter, women make up

... 50 percent of the American population. To succeed in our mission of national defense, we cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country’s talents and skills. We have to take full advantage of every individual who can meet our standards.1

In May 2015, the Secretary of the Navy (SecNav) proposed increasing enlisted female recruitment goals from 7 percent to 25 percent of all USMC accessions.2 The increase requires the accession of 30,940 females, a drastic change that is equivalent to more than the last 10 years of females the Marine Corps has recruited in 1 year. Recruiters are tasked to obtain names, prospect, screen, sell, process, and ship qualified individuals, with the end state of transforming them into Marines who will win our Nation’s battles and then return them to society as quality citizens—no easy task. If the Marine Corps Recruiting Command (MCRC) re-prioritizes the recruiting effort to meet the order to increase female accessions, recruiters will focus on finding women applicants instead of quality applicants. The USMC will most effectively strengthen its force and increase female representation by improving the quality of accessed females instead of attempting to increase quantity arbitrarily.

There is a difference between a qualified individual and a quality applicant. A qualified individual may enlist with a non-traditional education, a low Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) score, criminal convictions, and confessed illegal drug usage, to name a few scenarios. A quality applicant is defined as: morally fit—no criminal or illegal drug history; mentally fit—scored over 49 on the ASVAB and graduated from high school; and physically fit—a medically-qualified individual who can pass the initial strength test. Recruiting missions are based on shipping quotas to meet the personnel needs of the Corps. Mandating an arbitrary increase in female accession that is not scientifically formed will impact the Corps by sacrificing the resource of recruiter’s time to find quality applicants who will be diverted to fill an increase in female shipping. To obtain this goal, quality standards would have to be lowered; the throughput of contracts, waivers, and expedited processing will increase; and recruiters’ efforts will need to be reallocated to prospect for females. The increased numbers will fail to represent the female population in a positive way because quality will be sacrificed to reach the quantity. The quality of current female recruits is lower than that of males as indicated by higher attrition rates and lower physical performance.3 The increase directed by the SecNav will exacerbate the quality issue and run counter to the end state of a stronger force.

Realistic expectations of increasing the percentage of females will pay dividends in recruiting quality applicants and retaining quality throughout the ranks. Currently, women make up approximately eight percent of the Marine Corps, the smallest of any Service. That being said, LtGen Mark Brilakis, the recent CG, MCRC, stated,

The fact is none of the services are at 25 percent ... I think we can turn that around, but I think all the services have concerns about getting to that particular percentage overall.4

Each Recruiting Station (RS) establishes a

… pool of highly desirable applicants … for enlistment into the Regular Marine Corps during future months … providing a source for referrals/new contracts.5

Female pools do exist at RSs; however, the line to join is shorter, and there are no documented cases where a qualified female applicant was turned away or not processed for enlistment. In today’s society, the majority of young Americans are not jumping up and down to join the Service; in a recent poll of 18- to 29-year-olds, 62 percent said they would not join the military if more troops were needed to fight Islamic extremists.6 Most of the MOSs in the Marine Corps do not appeal to the vast majority of the female population. Other Services offer what are considered to be traditional female jobs in the medical and dental fields.

Recruiters must have realistic goals to achieve the mission. The Marine Corps must study and analyze the data to determine if 25 percent is a realistic goal. In fiscal years 2005–2008 (FYs 2005–08), 9,077 females shipped (sending a qualified applicant to recruit training), and the average female attrition rate was 17.6 percent.7 In FYs 2009–2013, when unemployment levels rose, 11,775 females shipped, and the average female attrition rate was 13.5 percent.8 In FY 2015, 2,973 female shipped and, of that, 455 (15.3 percent) were discharged compared to 31,606 males shipped and 1,842 (5.83 percent) who were discharged.9 As indicated by the numbers, female attrition continues to be a major problem. Therefore, the risk of increasing female shipping will be higher discharge rates which undermine the ability to achieve the desired end state of 25 percent. Recruiters already have an inherently difficult job, and putting more pressure on them to prospect for more than triple the current mission today will only serve to put more strain on an already overburdened Force.

Diversity is an important facet when looking at sources of strength within the Marine Corps; however, it is hard to directly tie diversity to increased combat power and force. The National Basketball Association (NBA) is not a diverse organization. NBA coaches and scouts seek out players based on their talents, performance, the abilities—diversity is not a factor. They recruit players who will help their organization succeed. The NBA’s Non-Discrimination Policy states:

NBA’s EEO [Equal Employment Opportunity] Policy provides that all employment decisions will be based on merit and valid job qualifications and will be made without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, alienage or citizenship status, ancestry, marital status, creed, genetic predisposition or carrier status, sexual orientation, veteran status, familial status, or any or status or characteristic protected by applicable federal, state or local law.10

The Marine Corps should take the approach of the professional sports teams and focus on performance, ability, and quality of an individual, which will result in a stronger force.

Proponents argue that the increase in quantity will increase female enlisted reenlistment rates. In addition to the challenge of maintaining female recruitment at the current rate, there has been a consistent struggle to retain females past their first enlistment. This results in low female representation at the higher ranks (gunnery sergeant to sergeant major). First- and second-term Marines need to be exposed to strong female role models who progressed through the ranks based on merit and performance to provide them an example to follow in their footsteps. Capt Rodman, who wrote the article “BTTF 5: Retaining Female Talent” for the Gazette, commented that, “The fact that there are few female leaders at the top really does affect the experience of the women coming up behind them.”11 Only 5.2 percent of the Marine Corps’ 3,897 master sergeants/first sergeants are female.12 Opening combat arms MOSs to females will make it more difficult to retain top female talent. BGen George W. Smith, the Director, Marine Corps Force Innovation Office, said,

The likelihood of a female Marine being less competitive in these significantly more physically demanding occupations may adversely impact the Marine Corps’ ability to retain top female talent and enable their progression into more senior ranks.13

Quality female leadership throughout the ranks will breed quality female accession, retention, and career progression.

Diversity advocates propose 25 percent is an achievable and realistic goal. Although this may be achievable over an extended period of time, without significantly bolstering support to the recruiting force in the form of personnel, facilities, funding, and advertising, the 25 percent mission is not attainable in the near future. In today’s society, young Americans do not have the desire or drive to serve their country. Of those young Americans, 75 percent are not eligible for

... the military because they did not graduate from high school, have criminal records or are physically unfit (overweight/overfat).14

Not only will recruiters have to find qualified applicants, recruiters will have to meet a higher diversity quota for females. Each RS, depending on the location, faces different quality challenges (physical fitness, education level) requiring different areas of focus. Recruit training is gender segregated and the structure, composition, and organization of the male and female training companies is different, with a higher operational tempo and turnaround for female drill instructors (DIs). Female DIs work over 120 hours a week and are often pulled away from their duties for RS visits and other requirements. The female recruit training effort and infrastructure would have to be tripled. In the event that the Marine Corps achieves the quantity, the resulting quality will be lower, therefore decreasing creditability of the female population.

It is suggested that diversity will strengthen the Force and that increasing the female population is the only way to reach that goal. The Marine Corps, however, actively recruits all qualified applicants. The Corps is not cutting itself short as the SecDef stated; the Corps already taps into 100 percent of the female population. Individuals must meet the standards and have a desire to serve their country, but that is not the case in today’s society. When June Eden wrote about issues of coed boot camp she said,

Women are already five-times harder and more expensive to recruit because very few women want to join the military and fewer are qualified.15

The concern should not be on increasing the percentage of a certain gender to make a stronger force. If diversity is in fact the key, then according to the former SecDef, a true proportional representation would be 50 percent females and not the proposed arbitrary 25 percent.

Diversity alone does not make a stronger force; the quality and performance of each Marine contributing to the mission is what makes the Marine Corps strong and gives the Marine Corps the ability to accomplish its mandate: to win our Nation’s battles. The Marine Corps does not need a quota, but rather must refocus efforts on quality recruiting, developing, and retaining high-quality Marines. The Corps must focus all efforts on recruiting quality applicants and retaining only the best Marines. These quality Marines will carry on the finest of legacies the Marines of yesteryear established. Just as the Marine Corps became blind to race, the Marine Corps now needs to be blind to gender.


1. Department of Defense, “Secretary of Defense Speech, Remarks on the Women-in-Service Review,” (Arlington, VA: DOD, 2015), accessed at

2. Derrick Perkins, “Mabus: 1 in 4 Marine Recruits Should be Women,” Marine Corps Times, (Vienna, VA: 26 May 2015), accessed at

3. Department of Defense Women in Service Studies, An Analysis of Marine Corps Female Recruit Training Attrition, (Arlington, VA: Center for Naval Analysis, 2014), 2, accessed at

4. James Sanborn, “Recruiters Face Gender Quotas, New Challenges in 2016,” Marine Corps Times, (Vienna, VA: 26 September 2015), accessed at

5. Commandant of the Marine Corps, Marine Corps Order P1100.72C (MCO P1100.72C), Military Personnel Procurement Manual, Vol 2, Enlisted Procurement, (Washington, DC: 18 June 2004), accessed at

6. Asma Khalid, “Millennials Want to Send Troops to Fight ISIS, But Don’t Want to Serve,” NPR, (Washington, DC: 11 December 2015),

7. Department of Defense Women in Service Studies, 4.

8. Ibid, 4.

9. Capt Stephen Grodek, Marine Corps Recruiting Information Support System data email to author, 13 January 2015.

10. National Basketball Association (NBA), “Playing at the Pro Level, Working at the NBA, Diversity,” accessed 5 January 2016 at

11. Capt Lindsay L. Rodman, “BTTF 5: Retaining Female Talent,” blog, Marine Corps Gazette, (Quantico, VA: 13 October 2013), accessed at

12. Headquarters Marine Corps, “Active Duty Enlisted, Grade by Gender,” in Marine Corps Concepts and Programs, Almanac, (Washington, DC: 2016) accessed 15 January 2016 at https://marinecorpsconceptsandprograms.

13. BGen George W. Smith Jr, Memorandum from Marine Corps Force Innovation Office to Gen Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Commandant of the Marine Corps, dated 18 August 2015.

14. Ibid., 7.

15. Jude Eden, “The Many Problems with Coed Marine Boot Camp,” LifeZette, (Washington, DC: 2016), accessed at

Capt Stow is a financial management officer who served her first tour in Camp Lejuene with MARSOC. She deployed to Afghanistan as a Cultural Support Team Leader, SOTF-W 81.1.