The Air Force is taking into consideration new tactics to keep women officers in the service as it deals with retention issues and a growing pilot shortage.
Women only make up 20.6 percent of the Air Force officer corps and that percentage lowers at higher pay grades, according to a new study from the RAND Corporation.
Only 37 percent of female officers who are not pilots stay in the service through 10 years, as compared to 55 percent of male officers. Thirty nine percent of female officers who earned their wings stay through the same amount of time as compared to 63 percent of male officers.
It’s “very clear from women, and this was literally in the study, they want to get off the escalator,” said Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services , referring to the push to continue climbing the ranks in the military when she testified before the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee on April 13.
The RAND study comes with a number of quick fix and long-term solutions to retaining women, which the Air Force is taking into serious consideration, Grosso said.
The recommendations range from family and personal factors to career, work environment and broader military issues.
The study highlights expanding subsidized child care options and child development centers, providing tools for educating new officers on career field options and offering more cross-training opportunities as ways the Air Force can quickly address the retention issue.
Child care is consistently an issue for all military parents. The 2017 Blue Star Families Military Lifestyle Survey noted that two-thirds of military families said they could not reliably find the childcare they needed. Fifty six percent of families said the Defense Department does not provide adequate support to help children cope with the unique challenges associated with military life.
“Additional child care options that the Air Force can explore could include expanding the Family Child Care program, which offers in-home child care and was mentioned in our focus groups as a beneficial program,” the study stated.
The study also recommended longer term incremental changes to policy and culture. For example, the study suggests ensuring women are given a designated facility for nursing or pumping breast milk.
Another option for bigger change is expanding and raising awareness for the Air Force career intermission program, which allows airmen to take time away from their career without being penalized when they come back to work.
The study suggests providing flexibility for transferring into and back from the Air Force Reserve.
RAND wants the Air Force to look into options for reducing the frequency of permanent changes of station and giving officers more control over their assignments.