WASHINGTON — Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James addressed the topic of women serving in combat roles during a Women In International Security-sponsored event to celebrate Women’s History Month at the Stimson Center, March 28.
“In the Air Force, we were already leading the pack in terms of integration of women,” said James, who was the keynote speaker at the event. “We already have 99 percent of our available positions open to women. The ones that are closed are in the areas of some special operations forces and some positions that serve with Army and Marine ground combat forces.
“We’re currently working on an implementation plan to validate gender-neutral job performance standards, and we’re working closely with the other services and the office of the (defense secretary) to get this done. It would be my expectation that these remaining career fields, which there are seven, will be open no later than Jan. 1, 2016,” James added.
She spoke about some of the challenges she has seen with ensuring women are at every echelon in every career field, the toughest being retention at the mid-career point.
“(You’re) trying to balance your professional life with your personal life and in the military when you add in those deployments, which we don’t see as much in the civilian world, before you know it, it becomes a very difficult thing to balance,” she said.
James shared many of her experiences, both professional and personal, to the collective audience of women and men from military and government jobs, as well as the private sector.
“I think she’s an example and role model for many,” said Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, the WIIS president and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute North America executive director.
“Her experience and expertise make her particularly well equipped to head up the Air Force at a time when it is facing many challenges,” she said.
James shared her own strategies that have helped her find success and balance throughout her career, primarily the ability to lean in and step back when needed.
She provided her “top 10” list of things she feels everyone can benefit from in their personal and professional lives: Be prepared to zig-zag; seek and be a mentor; build and value a network; build competence; communicate; be a role model; don’t compromise ethics; be upbeat; persistence pays off; and along the way have fun, have balance, love your family and friends.
“It’s important to have that balanced life,” she said. “You’ll be happier for it.”