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Combat Integration: Implications for Physical Employment Standards

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Human Factors and Medicine

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Employment Standards, Female, Gender, Physical Demands, Physical Fitness


A NATO DRG Panel 8 Workshop entitled ‘Optimizing the Performance of Women in the Armed Forces of NATO ’ was held in the United Kingdom (UK) between the 16th and 19th October 1995. The workshop was attended by more than sixty delegates, representing ten NATO countries. The Final Report recommended that future multi-disciplinary meetings on this topic be conducted in a similar workshop format, or that a new RSG is established. A new RSG is now considered timely given the current or proposed changes to policy of lifting exclusions of women in combat roles across NATO countries. This proposed RSG will build on the framework developed during the 1995 Workshop. Gender integration within all military combat roles is also referred to as Combat Integration. Combat Integration was initiated by the Canadian Forces in 1989, and recently by the United States and Australia. The UK is currently reviewing its exclusion policies (May 2014), possibly followed by Germany in the near future. A contentious issue for women joining combat roles is physical employment standards (PES), and specifically how the design of PES will impact potential female applicants. The Canadian Forces have faced these challenges during the move from ‘gender fair’ (1991) to ‘Gender Free’ (2013) standards and the procedures used in this process have been referenced as a framework for designing objective PES. Gender fair physical employment tests and standards are still in place across some NATO countries, resulting in gender bias and indefensible physical employment decisions. Even though the design of gender free PES that tests the demands of the job may seem like a simple process, the point and extent to which women are involved is not clear, and gender bias may ‘creep’ into the design of predictive gender free PES. There is ongoing debate on how to select predictive style tests that contain inherent gender bias or cultural artifacts, and how these might be removed. Further research or consensus is, therefore, required to identify the presence of gender bias in predictive PES, to identify methods for removing gender as a variable in the design of PES, and to explore the underlying reasons for differences in performance.


Identify best practices for the development of Physical Employment Standards in Combat Integration. Specifically: (1) Develop a research framework for designing PES to minimize inherent gender bias and agreed definition of terminology; (2) Provide advice and guidance on injury prevention strategies with Combat Integration: a. Facilitate international research efforts to monitor MSkI risk in longitudinal investigations; b. Identify female specific training strategies for achieving and maintaining PES. (3) Produce a final technical report with practical recommendations for designing PES with Combat Integration, supported by a comprehension compendium of all available related research.


(1) ELIMINATION OF GENDER BIAS IN THE DESIGN OF PES Bias can arise from instrumentation and test methods of predictive fitness tests through a lack of validity, or cultural artifacts. Bias can also be introduced by participants and/or Subject Matter Experts therefore, the proposed RSG will develop guidelines on the diversity required of the research sample in face of the challenges of a very small sample pool of women in combat roles. Recommendations on best practices for implementation of PES (accommodation by means of practice trials, training, or technique), and ways to facilitate success without compromising standards will be made. A consensus will be reached on the best methods to detect adverse impact, and validation of acceptable adverse impact including the influence on quotas and setting reasonable expectations for the success of women achieving PES for all military roles This analysis will help to determine if the concept of ‘critical mass’ is reasonable considering the nature of combat roles . A consensus statement will also be generated as guidance to military organisations on whether maximum effort or normative physical performance data are best used as incentives / to promote women in close combat roles, given the inherent sex differences in maximal physical capacities. (2) PREVENTION AND MONITORING OF MUSCULOSKELETAL INJURIES Evidence-based injury prevention strategies for women training and operating in combat military roles will be derived from secondary sources or new findings produced during the life of the RSG, with specific focus on the impact of PES design. The value of incorporating injury surveillance methods to monitor MSkI or other relevant outcome measures (eg cardiovascular) in the PES framework will also be considered. The panel will facilitate international collaborations of longitudinal investigations to determine reasons for attrition or failure in combat/combat support roles. Sex-specific considerations of physical training strategies to prevent injuries, and to optimize, maintain and restore physical performance for operations will be documented. (3) DOCUMENTATION AND INFORMATION SHARING A template will be produced for use by NATO countries and partners to: i) document operational methodologies and best practices; ii) identify knowledge gaps in research on Combat Integration and PES; and, iii) record confounding factors that influence success on PES, possibly misidentified as a result of gender (eg anthropometry). A compendium of policies on PES, and legal challenges on gender-related PES will be created using sources such as Lexisnexis.

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