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Pentagon Launches Pilot Program For Military Women


There was a time when the Pentagon went to the private sector for the latest technology. Now Defense Secretary Ash Carter is looking to high-tech companies for insights on something else - recruiting and retaining women. NPR's Tom Bowman has more.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Silicon Valley wants to attract and keep the best and brightest women, so companies there have come up with better benefits, more maternity leave, freezing a woman's eggs so she can delay having kids, creating private rooms where a new mother can breastfeed. So Defense Secretary Ash Carter hopes to create 3,600 of those lactation rooms around the country for military women.


ASH CARTER: This is an issue, by the way, that my friend Sheryl Sandberg first illuminated for me.

BOWMAN: That's the Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, and a lactation room is just one of the benefits Secretary Carter grabbed from the high-tech world. He plans to offer 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. That's double the current amount.

MACKENZIE EAGLEN: Well, I think the secretary's visits to Silicon Valley are literally paying off.

BOWMAN: That's MacKenzie Eaglen. She works on military personnel issues at the American Enterprise Institute and says the moves put the Pentagon in the top tier of employers.

EAGLEN: And it certainly will get the attention of current and future enlistees.

BOWMAN: All ground combat jobs are now open to women, but military women tend to leave after just 10 years of service when they're at their peak potential for starting a family. So Carter says the Pentagon will also help active-duty troops who want to delay having a family. The military will pay the cost of freezing sperm or eggs.


CARTER: A benefit that will help provide men and women, especially those deployed in combat, with greater peace of mind.

BOWMAN: Eaglen has her doubts about that plan. She thinks relatively few will opt for freezing their sperm or eggs, and each round of egg retrieval costs about $10,000.

EAGLEN: It is definitely debatable whether or not that is going to be worth, in value terms, of what it's going to cost the department financially.

BOWMAN: Here's why the Pentagon wants more women. They tend to score higher than men on aptitude tests and have fewer brushes with the law. But while women make up half the population, they're just 15 percent of the force. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.

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