While leading the Department of Defense's only remaining all-women unit in 2014, Lt.Col. Kate Germano uncovered more than 40 years of data showing women underperforming men in all U.S. Marine Corps boot camp graduation categories. For decades, the Marine Corps had segregated men and women during boot camp training.
This segregation negatively affected the interaction between male and female Marines throughout their careers (the Marine Corps has the highest per capita rate of sexual assault of all the services). Lower expectations of female recruits were actively maintained and encouraged. Kate was convinced that if she expected more of the women just coming into Corps, she could raise historically low standards for female performance and make women better Marines – thereby improving the performance of the entire force. She set about making changes in training methodologies resulting in drastic improvements in female performance. After one year under her leadership, shooting qualifications of the women under her command equaled those of men, injuries had decreased, and unit morale had noticeably improved. She was fired from command when she became vocal in calling out systemic gender bias and started advocating for institutional changes.
She then launched a multi-year campaign to press the Marine Corps' leadership to fully integrate boot camp so that women would not be "othered" from the very start of their careers and to allow all qualified women to serve in all military occupational specialties – to include ground combat jobs - regardless of sex.
Germano struggled to achieve equality of performance and opportunity for female Marines against an entrenched male-dominated status quo and reduce the effects of systemic gender bias. She charged that the men above her in the chain of command were too invested in perpetuating the subordinate role of women in the Corps to allow her to prove that female Marines can be equal to their male counterparts. She noted that the Marine Corps' $35-million gender-integration study, which showed that all-male squads performed at a higher level than mixed male-female squads, flew in the face of the results she demonstrated with the all-female Fourth Battalion and raised questions about the Marine Corps' willingness to let women succeed.
Seven years later, the Marine Corps has implemented many of the changes Germano recommended – the same recommendations for which they fired her in 2015. They have more fully integrated women in training at boot camp, assigned female leaders to male units and vice versa, and opened the previously all-male West Coast boot camp to women. Yet more needs to change.