NORFOLK, Va. — In an effort to retain talented women, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus will unveil a proposal Wednesday that calls for doubling the amount of paid maternity leave that sailors and Marines can take to 12 weeks.
Mabus will detail the proposal during a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., according to a senior Navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to disclose the proposal ahead of the official announcement.
Extending paid maternity leave would require legislative approval, which if Congress agrees to, would ultimately be extended to members of all military branches. There were more than 200,000 active-duty women in the military as of January, according to the Defense Department. It wasn't immediately clear how much Mabus' proposal would cost, but Navy officials think it's a wise investment because women in the early part of their careers in that service are retained at half the rate as men.
To help keep top performers, the Navy wants to become more family friendly. As part of Mabus' proposals, child care hours around the world would be extended each day by two hours in the morning and two hours each evening.
For those who want to take time off to raise a family or to take a step away to keep from burning out, Mabus wants as many as 400 slots available for people to take up to three years off from service before returning to duty. Those who are part of the program would be expected to provide two years of service for each year they take off. Mabus also wants more sailors and Marines to go to civilian graduate schools full time and for other higher performing officers to be embedded at top corporations for about two years, the official said.
Mabus also plans to voice his support for opening all jobs — including special forces — to women, as long as standards are the same for each gender, the official said.
By January, the military must open all combat jobs to women or explain why any must remain closed. The Pentagon lifted its ban on women in combat jobs in 2012, but gave the military services time to gradually and systematically integrate women into the male-only front-line positions.
Special operations jobs are some of the last to be addressed, as commanders review the qualifications needed and assess the impact of bringing women in.
Other proposals Mabus wants to implement include improving physical fitness by expanding gym hours and providing more nutritional meals on shore and at sea. Mabus also wants the Navy and Marines to focus more on the overall health of their sailors and Marines instead of numeric metrics when measuring body fat. Some physically fit, muscular sailors and Marines weren't meeting the required standards because of their body shapes.