Marines Enlist Sheryl Sandberg To Help Grow Female Leadership Numbers


It’s no secret we have a female leadership problem here in the United States, as well as elsewhere in the world. And by problem, we mean there is a significant imbalance in the male-female ratio, as well as opportunities and incentives for women to progress through the ranks in different sectors.

Let’s take the military for example. Women only account for 15% of the entire active duty military. At the general-officer rank, only 4 percent of the Army’s generals, 3 percent of the Marine Corps’ generals, 7 percent of the Navy’s admirals, and 9 percent of the Air Force’s generals, according to a report on diversity commissioned in 2011. Do we think the numbers have increased by much since this report. Highly unlikely.

Now that women are allowed to apply for combat roles in the military (starting in 2016), the Marines feel it is important that they encourage more women to take up positions of leadership. But how do they go about doing this in a way that doesn’t feel patronizing, and in a way that will highlight the importance of gender diversity in the ranks? Recruit Facebook Chief Operating Officer and female boss extraordinaire Sheryl Sandberg, of course!

U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos is the man responsible for spearheading this new initiative, which is quite extraordinary in itself because a year ago, he hadn’t even heard of Sheryl Sandberg nor was he familiar with her ‘Lean In’ movement.


General Amos actually retired in October, but before he did, he spoke to the press about how he has been working over the past year with prominent women in leadership to ensure they can increase the total number of females in the Marines to anything above the 7.5% it currently sits at.

Since March 2014 he has hosted Sheryl Sandberg in a series of events aimed in brainstorming ways to encourage women to pursue positions of leadership within the military.

“I think the world of her. It’s based on mutual respect for leadership and character development,” the four-star general and former pilot told Reuters at his Pentagon office days before his retirement.

Amos began reaching out to female executives this spring as the Marine Corps grappled with decisions about opening ground combat roles to women, stamping out sexual assaults, and how the smallest military service could attract and retain more women.

He first met with Marillyn Hewson, chief executive of Lockheed Martin, and then Linda Hudson, the former CEO of the U.S. unit of Britain’s BAE Systems Plc, two executives who worked their way up the ladder in the male-dominated weapons industry.

“They helped me see what I’m not seeing, simply because I’m a guy, and as my wife tells me, an old, white guy,” General Amos said. He also traveled to Arkansas to meet with Gisel Ruiz, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. It was there that he was asked if he had heard of Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lead In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’, and he said “no”.

After then doing his due diligence by reading her book, watching her 2010 TED Talk, and even ordering all 15 (all male) three-star generals in the Marines to also read the book, General Amos was ready to meet with Sheryl at The Pentagon.


Amos said the outreach to corporate leaders has prompted new discussions among Marine Corps officials about how to encourage women stay in the military even when they decide to have children, and other ways to promote leadership among women.

Several months ago, he convinced a female major who was thinking of quitting to stay in the service by helping her get a transfer together with her husband, who is also a Marine.

“It was a small thing, but it’s important,” he said, noting that a dearth of young women officers was reducing the size of the “bench” for future leaders.

The Marine Corps has also set up a special office to focus on “talent management” and coordinate a range of diversity efforts under way across the service. It is also reviewing standards for a wide range of jobs as it prepares to comply with the Pentagon’s 2013 decision to open combat roles to women.

Bringing in Sandberg has generated important discussions among Marines, one female officer told Reuters.

“You’d think our sectors would be very different, but we face a lot of the same challenges. Sheryl told us that when she looks across her company, she looks five lines deep and there is not a woman in sight.”

Fortunately, things are slowly changing. More recently, three women passed the Marines’ grueling combat endurance test, paving the way for the first woman to graduate from the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course. Even though General Amos has now retired, we are certainly hoping his last days on active duty will leave a strong reminder to the men and women under his old command that they need to continue on with his legacy.





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  1. Pingback: Shark Tank's "Mr. Wonderful" Kevin O'Leary Thinks Women Make Better CEOs

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