The Coast Guard has seen remarkable improvements in women’s retention in the past few years, correlated to the service’s recent family-friendly policy improvements.
"Years 8 to 20 in a member's career is when they typically decide to start expanding their family. That's where our biggest gap in retention was - and that's where it's now closing," said CDR Morgan Holden, the deputy chief of Coast Guard Strategic Workforce Planning and HR Analytics (CG-126).
In 2017, women’s retention lagged 10% below men’s retention at 15 years time in service (TIS). By the end of 2019, that gap closed to 3%.
During those years, the Coast Guard started enacting a staggering number of policy changes to encourage women to stay in uniform.
Here are some of the key policies specifically supporting parents:
Additional policies were added to support all women and married couples:
“Seeing such impressive retention results is certainly icing on the cake of leading such a creative, dedicated, and vibrant team!” said Capt. Thomas Kaminski, who launched the Vice Commandant’s Personnel Readiness Task Force, which developed and championed many of these initiatives. “Coast Guard members are clearly determined to continue removing every barrier to recruiting, developing, and retaining women and underrepresented minorities as a critical component of our mission-ready workforce.”
Most of these changes were administrative in nature, with one exception – the highly successful primary caregiver backfill program, with its $10 million price tag.
Impact? The Coast Guard saved more than $50 million by not having to replace these highly experienced members.
“The savings isn’t the real win though," Holden added. "Being able to keep these women, with all their training, and experience, and leadership – to keep them in the service, so they can mentor those coming up behind them – that’s the win.”
Holden’s office recently acquired new software to analyze retention curves. One of her staff, LCDR Craig Nilson, created and analyzed more than 700 retention curves, including several looking specifically at women’s retention.
“I knew the Coast Guard had done a really good job with policy improvements for women, so I wanted to look at year by year retention curves. Sure enough, the improvement was there,” Holden said. “CG-1, CGMA, WLI, the PRTF – we've truly made some amazing policy changes in the past several years. Some of these suggestions came from the fleet – and the service listened,” she said.
The data is remarkable, but Holden wants people to remember that they don't reveal the real-world result of all these cumulative improvements.
"Each of these policies support our members while they navigate some of the hardest life challenges or transitions. They don't impact everyone all the time, but they do make a huge impact to those that need the support at critical times in their lives," she said. "We want every woman to feel supported, especially at work - by their peers, their boss; it's what keeps us coming back the next day."