A fighter jet just smashed through the glass ceiling. The Secretary of the United States Air Force said Monday she wants to open up all jobs in the service to qualified candidates regardless of gender, the Associated Press reported. Currently, seven Air Force positions -- including enlisted combat controller and combat rescue officer -- are available to men only, but Deborah Lee James, the civilian leader of the service branch, wants to change that.
Speaking to reports at a military station in Hawaii, James said she is working to come up with gender-neutral standards for the positions, opening them up to all qualified applicants sometime in the next year and a half. “That is to say, whatever the standard is, it would be the same for men and women," she said,” she said, according to the AP.
The seven positions comprise about 4,600 Air Force jobs. The Air Force already has more jobs available to women than any other branch of the military, the AP reported.
According to the Air Force Personnel Center, about 59,100 women serve in the U.S. Air Force, comprising 18.9 percent of its active duty list and almost 20 percent of its officers. Women first entered pilot training in the service branch in 1976.
James assumed the office of secretary less than a year ago, taking over for acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning. She is the second women to serve as head of the Air Force, after Sheila Widnall, who served in the 1990s.
In addition to opening up the male-only positions to females, she said she is also looking for ways to increase the service’s retention of women enlistees, who leave the service mid-career at twice the rate of men. According to the AP, James said, “We need to bore down and figure out why that is happening and how we can turn that around.”