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8 years in, women submariners' retention rate about equal to men

When the Navy began integrating submarines eight years ago, there was push-back. Some submariners, veterans and submariners' wives thought the living quarters were just too tight and that lack of privacy and the potential for romantic entanglements would be disruptive.

Today, with a fifth of submarine crews integrated by gender, it appears those concerns were overblown. There was a major incident in 2015, when a group of male submariners were court-martialed for secretly taping women on the USS Wyoming as they were undressing.

"It wasn't laughed off, and that's a good thing," commented a retired Navy Captain who now works with the Service Women's Action Network.

The Navy's reaction to that incident may indeed have set the tone for an integration process that was quite positive overall.

The Navy does plan to retrofit submarines with gender-designated washrooms and extra doors, and new subs are being designed to take women into account. Most of the necessary changes, however, were apparently social and have been made by the submariners themselves.

For example, men who are used to sleeping in their underwear simply take a moment to put on a robe or pair of sweats when they head to the restroom.

"That goes for both sides. It's not that all females have to wear this and males can do whatever they want," explains one female submariner. "It's just little things like that, having both genders in a small space. You figure out things you never would've thought of before."

Another concern about integration was whether women would sign new submarine contracts at the same rate as men. With a relatively small sample, it appears that they are. The first 19 female officers signed up in 2010 and 26 percent signed new contracts. That compares to a 27 percent average for male officers and beats the Navy's goal of 15 percent.

Enlisted women were given a chance to sign up five years later. An enlisted submariner's normal career path is to return to ship or shore supply departments after one contract. As for officers, they can continue on a submarine officer career path, serve elsewhere in the military, or leave the service once their contracts are up. According to the Associated Press, the first opportunity for a woman to command a U.S. Navy sub could come in 2026.

Whether in the military or any federal workplace, everyone has the right to a workplace free of harassment or discrimination. If you are experiencing discrimination in a federal job, you should consider discussing your situation with a federal employment law attorney.

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