Report Says Women in Special Operations Still Face Barriers

Report Says Women in Special Operations Still Face Barriers

Women soldiers
Photo by: U.S. Army/Sgt. Alexis Washburn-Jasinski

Leaders should do more to better understand and address the barriers faced by women serving in special operations roles, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

While women account for nearly one-fifth of service members across DoD, they make up less than 10% of U.S. Special Operations Command troops, according to the GAO report. 

The report reviewed the incidence of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault, as well as DoD’s efforts to assess barriers to women in special operations using information collected through virtual site visits to Special Operations Command headquarters, each of the services’ component commands and interviews with 51 women who serve or have served in special operations, among others.

While the command “has taken some steps” to identify and address barriers that could affect women’s careers in special operations, the study found that leaders still have limited access to data that could prove helpful. “SOCOM has limited access to timely, accurate, and complete data on its personnel, including incidents of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault,” the report found.

Additionally, the command has “not established a collaborative process to ensure SOCOM has access to data maintained in various Office of the Secretary of Defense and military service databases,” the report says. “Without such a process to facilitate SOCOM’s access to needed data, SOCOM leadership will not be positioned to identify trends or address urgent concerns.” 

At the Army level, Army Special Operations Command has undertaken efforts to improve quality of life for women in special operations, including a December 2021 study that focused on barriers and challenges experienced by women in the command. 

“The survey identified equipment fitting challenges, gender bias in the workplace and child care, among other things, as the top challenges women in the command face,” the report found. 

Recommendations from the study include a review of sizing requirements for the Advanced Combat Helmet, conducting a needs assessment for a child development center for soldiers serving in the 7th Special Forces Group and expanding social support and mentorship programs.

The Army also is in the process of updating its regulations to reflect DoD’s harassment policy, which will minimize confusion and enable commands to process complaints consistently. 

Several women serving in special operations roles noted the strides they have seen for women. 

“I think we’re doing a decent job moving forward and promoting that everything is open to women in [special operations],” a service member said during her GAO interview. “I’ve definitely seen an improvement over the years.” 

Read the report here.