Establishment of a more liberal Coast Guard maternity leave policy is among the service's top personnel priorities, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said Tuesday.
Speaking to a Navy League audience ahead of the upcoming publication of his human capital strategy, Zukunft said he was working with other service chiefs to adopt the same 18-week maternity leave policy that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus implemented for the Navy and Marine Corps earlier this year.
The Coast Guard's current policy authorizes six weeks of post-partum leave.
"I'm fully convinced we need to provide a much more liberal leave policy for our moms in the Coast Guard, including up to 18 weeks," Zukunft told Military.com. "I have my recommendation and it's a high priority for me. I would like to be able to roll this out within a matter of weeks and not months."
A more attractive maternity leave allowance could also help the Coast Guard retain more of its female members, Zukunft said. While the service does offer an unpaid two-year career intermission to allow coasties to start families or pursue other things, he said 90 percent of those who take the intermission opt not to return.
"We never take an oath, when we support and defend the Constitution, not to have a family at the same time," he said. "So we have to look at how we manage the family dynamics of our Coast Guard as well."
Zukunft noted that while the Coast Guard was improving its recruitment of female and minority members, retention of these members was proving more difficult. In the last two years, he said, 40 percent of new accessions from the Coast Guard academy were women and a third underrepresented minorities. But still, he said, retention of female and minority members lags 30 percent behind retention of white males.
"When we draw that line out and say, 'Who's going to be the future commandant of the Coast Guard?' we end up with too many folks that look exactly like me," Zukunft said.
Zukunft also suggested that better mentorship might help to encourage coasties from minority backgrounds to stay in the service longer.
"We need to set people up to succeed," he said.
Meanwhile, he said, retaining service members in high-demand fields like cyber was also a priority. Zukunft rolled out a new cyber strategy for a 21st-century Coast Guard in June, focused on safeguarding the nation's maritime infrastructure. The service established a small cyber command in 2013.
"If I'm doing the recruiting, if I'm doing the training, I want to make sure that someone else doesn't cherry pick the talent that is in our service," he said.
Zukunft will address these personnel topics further in his human capital plan, which he said he plans to release after the first of the year.