Marines say Inclusive Combat Units are Lower Performing

Not surprisingly, no one in the HR/Talent community is talking about a major study released by the Marines last week that shows all male combat units perform better than mixed male and female combat units. More from Time:

The results of study speak to the dangers of the Golem effect. Research has shown that when less is expected of a specific group, less is exactly what they will achieve. For decades, women in the Marine Corps have been subject to lower performance standards, starting at recruit training. The passive acceptance of second-rate results for women flies in the face of the mythical characterization of the Marine Corps as the most elite of all of the services.

Although female recruits have historically underperformed in every quantifiable category at boot camp, the Marine Corps has never acknowledged this to be a fundamental obstacle to the success and credibility of female Marines. Ultimately, the impact of lowered expectations for female performance at boot camp were reflected across the spectrum of the study’s results.

A Marine Corps mantra is “Every Marine a rifleman.” However, until last year, female recruits achieved an initial qualification rate on the rifle range between 68% and 72%, compared to male averages between 85% and 93%. It became normal for up to a third of every cohort of female recruits to require remediation on the rifle range or be recycled in training.

So, does this have workplace application?

I think it does speak to the lowering selection standards amongst different groups of people you have coming into your organization. It also speaks to the concept of Inclusion and what importance your organization puts on Inclusion for your success.  The results of the Marine’s study is not surprising. They lowered standards for female recruits, continued to lower standards through training, then measured them against all male units which had higher standards.  The mixed groups would almost always fail under these circumstances.

It’s also not surprising that in a combat setting inclusive groups would perform lower than exclusive groups.  Combat units thrive when they act as one, not independent.  Inclusion doesn’t help this concept, it hinders it. You will find the same thing in manufacturing environments, call centers, etc.

Inclusion doesn’t make every workplace environment perform better.  In some workplaces, increased inclusion will actually bring down overall performance.

The larger issue with the Marine study, though, is that the Marines lowered incoming standards for females, which ultimately led to lower performance in the mixed groups.  More from Marine Lieutenant Colonel, Kate Germano

“The gender normed physical fitness test allows women to settle for mediocrity while their male peers are held to more stringent standards including dead-hang pull ups and a faster three-mile run requirement. Considering these disparities, it should not be a surprise that men would outperform the women in the study, nor should the female lower extremity injury rate be considered startling.

The Marine Corps force integration plan summary touts the fact that the recruiting force has seen a 4.5% increase in female enlistments since 2008. But does an increase of women in the Marine Corps really equate to talent management if the women are simply expected to do less? No matter how many women there are in the Marine Corps, if low expectations for performance are maintained, women will never measure up to their male counterparts in any capacity, much less the field of infantry.”

I’m wondering how many HR & Talent Pros are facing something similar in their own workplaces.  With the push to make all workplaces more inclusive, regardless of the results, I tend to believe there are probably more, but few willing to go as public as the Marine Corp did in this study!

Don’t confuse this issue. This isn’t male vs. female. This is a false belief that all environments perform better by being inclusive, which isn’t the case. Especially, if you’re going to hold the inclusive group to lower standards!

One thought on “Marines say Inclusive Combat Units are Lower Performing

  1. I’m glad you wrote this, Tim.

    In my mind, inclusion is about inviting/wanting a diverse set of people on the team. It is not about lowering standards once those individuals are there.

    Of course, it’s also important to ensure that you’re holding everyone to the right standards. Not being a military person, I have no idea whether rifle accuracy is the correct gauge for assessing Marine performance. If it is, then the standards should be consistent for all. If that’s a “nice to have” then perhaps the standards can be altered. It’s like the difference between requiring an MD for a physician (absolute no-brainer) and a marketing degree for a marketing position (very nice to have, but experience can be a strong substitute).

    I hope they’re reporting on metrics that actually reflect their true performance, and not “nice to haves” which will lead some to think that the military should not be inclusive.

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