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This is the last episode for Season 1 – Thanks for listening!
Episode #24: Kate Germano – Author of Fight Like A Girl – The Truth Behind How Female Marines Are Trained
This is a fascinating story about how a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marines, Kate Germano, set out to improve the performance scores of the female recruits under her command. Using historical data, and implementing the advice and training improvement suggestions of her peers and even supervisors, she managed to bring the results of her recruits up to par with that of the men they would serve with – in under 9 short months. This, after 40+ years of women never coming close to qualifying equally with men.
Women who were previously shooting at the lowest qualifying rank (some failing to qualify at all) were suddenly shooting at the expert level – the highest qualifying level. Unit morale had improved, and her recruits were suffering fewer injuries. Her female recruits, for once in the Marines’ history, were equally prepared to serve alongside their male counterparts.
Interesting enough as it’s own story line, right? Well what happened next was fodder for the international media for weeks afterwards – the Marines relieved her of her duty. Yes, Kate Germano was fired for doing too good a job. For being, “too tough” on her recruits.
Too tough for the Marines?
What Kate had uncovered was systematic gender bias supported by years of segregated training and lowered expectations around results for the female recruits.
We found that many of the male instructors were telling their recruits, “Well, women haven’t historically shot well and I’ll do the best I can but I just need you to pass”. Social science research shows that when you tell someone that, because of their gender, ethnicity etc., that they’re not going to do well before they take a test, those statements have a direct implication on the results they’ll achieve. It’s called the Golem effect. When we were able to hold the women to a higher standard for shooting well, they didn’t know any better and they excelled.
While you might expect logic to overtake bias in a business where poor results means someone gets hurt, or worse, dies, that isn’t what happened in this case. Which exposes the insidiousness of the bias women face in life and in the workplace the world over. Kate had several male allies in her workplace but still, this didn’t prevent her suffering the consequences of the men at the top who felt threatened by her, and her female recruits’ success.
After all…if women could perform equally to men in such a testosterone-fueled workplace, what did that say about the masculinity of the men who held the same positions? When she was fired, she started researching gender bias and sexism and hyper masculinity and that guided her into wanting to improve the relationships between men and women in the workplace. This expanded into D&I studies at Georgetown University and her developing interest in helping any disadvantaged group at work.
If we can change the dynamic and make people feel they’re better human beings as a result of the work they do, I think people might be more receptive [to D&I work]. Part of that is accepting that we’ve also done men a disservice by holding them to such a rigid definition and characterization of what being a man means, that we don’t allow them to have feelings. Which means they leave the best part of themselves in the parking lot when they get to work. And that’s a really unfortunate way to live.
There’s much more to this story, including the mental health challenges Kate suffered through immediately following her dismissal, which are instructive for all of us – men and women alike. And the story of how she dealt with the loss of her identity and grew into the identity she now holds dear, is so inspiring.
What you’ll learn from Kate in this episode:
- How data driven actions often aren’t enough to change deeply rooted biases in the workplace. We likely have to compel leaders to make equitable changes in other ways as well
- The relevance of Kate’s military leadership experience to that of the corporate world – the percentages of women in senior leadership positions is fairly similar and so are the reasons for this under-representation
- Her inspiring and graceful lessons for others in how she took responsibility for her part in not appreciating how she was coming across to her recruits
- Why it’s so important for men and women to be able to come to work as human beings first – for us to being our whole selves to our work
- How gender bias supports the Queen Bee syndrome that can exist amongst women in the workplace when senior women try to identify more with the dominant group than with the group they came from
- Why we need to socialize girls to learn how to fail early and often and the importance of the kind of resilience that results in the workplace
- How a desire to fight back and to improve the experience of others facing mental health stigmas encouraged her to write her book
Kate is ambitious for:
Christine Blasey Ford. This episode was recorded before the Justice Kavanaugh hearings that we now know the result of, but Kate’s compelling statements about how and why Dr. Ford’s testimony was transformational are enduring.
Links to organizations/articles/books mentioned in this episode: