The Ethical Issue of Women Serving on Submarine??™s

The Ethical Issue of Women Serving on Submarine??™s
Chad Morey
Excelsior University

An ethical issue in the navy is whether or not women should be allowed to serve on submarines. Women serving on submarines present ethical dilemmas due many constraints that accompany serving on submarines. Some ethical dilemmas include different medical complications that could arise for women, fair treatment both for women and men, adequate living space and privacy. The stakeholders impacted from this issue are women in the military, the men currently on submarines, and the submariner??™s significant other.
In the U.S. Navy, women were not given the opportunity to serve on submarines. Many view this as discrimination. According to Trevino and Nelson (2011), ???Discrimination occurs whenever something other than qualifications affects how an employee is treated??? (p. 116). Women have proved in the military that they have the ability to perform at the same high level as men. Specifically, women have been serving on surface fighting warships since 1993. Not allowing women to serve on submarines can be viewed as unfair and unethical. In the military or in a civilian business, as long as the employee meets the qualification and standards they should be given the same opportunity as anyone else. This ethical issue seems cut and dry as being unethical yet, there are underlying ethical dilemmas that congress and admirals of the navy have to look at prior to making a decision.
Certain medical issues could arise for women that have the potential of causing problems. If a female submariner were to get pregnant and was unaware, would the environment of the submarine cause medical problems for herself and the fetus According to the research done by Kane and Horn (2001):
The submarine atmosphere, containing chronically elevated CO2 and other contaminants, and submarine environmental factors such as noise and vibration levels, present currently unknown risks to the fetus. Carbon Dioxide levels in the submarine usually run .5% with normal atmospheric levels of .03%.
While serving in any military branch there are high risks that you are aware of that could cause harm to yourself. Although the risks of serving in the military are inherent to members of the military, managers of the military have to decide, is it ethical for those same risks to be possibly exposed to an unborn fetus.
Another ethical dilemma is treating women and men fairly. Justice is one of the high virtues and important character strength of justice is fairness. Not giving women a fair opportunity to serve on submarines is discrimination. Trevino and Nelson (2011) state ???Discrimination is an ethical issue because it??™s at the core of fairness in the workplace. While concepts of fairness are incorporated in business law around the world, in the United States fairness is considered to be an inalienable right??? (p. 117). It??™s important that the government and military do not discriminate because if they do, they??™re setting a bad example for businesses to follow. Grossman (2000) states:
Integrating the subs would expand the talent pool, potentially easing a shortage of qualified recruits that has persisted despite pay incentives. Its also a question of equal opportunity, the Pentagon panel suggested, allowing “the assignment of the most highly qualified personnel regardless of gender.”
The government leaders also have to think about treating the submariners that are men fairly too. If women are incorporated into submarines and are given special treatment over men, it could cause resentment and a poor work environment.
Next, adequate living space and privacy is a dilemma to be addressed. Working and living on a submarine involves limited space and privacy. The living quarters on a submarine are very small and many times, especially on attack submarines, personnel have to share racks. There are many tight spaces and things such as valves are located in berthing and even in the CO??™s stateroom that have to be manipulated at any given time. There are also a limited number of bathrooms or heads on a submarine.
Aboard fast-attack submarines, two bathrooms – each with four toilets and two urinals – serve 100 crew members. Crew chiefs and officers use another three baths. Designating one bath for a small number of women could disadvantage scores of men, while making them unisex raises other problems (Grossman 2000).
With over 100 personnel assigned to a submarine and very limited space, a sailor is going to have to give up some privacy.
Stakeholder Analysis
In any sound ethical decision one must identify who is affected by the decision and how, also known as the stakeholders. The stakeholders who are affected by the decision of allowing women to serve on submarines are women in the navy, men on submarines, and family members of the submariners. Women in the navy are the obvious one??™s who will be affected by the decision. As a consequentialist, women would benefit from the decision. Women have fought long and hard for equal rights. To allow women to serve on submarines opens up new opportunities for them in the military to advance and to make a positive impact on the submarine force. Looking through the eyes of women in the military, their perception of not allowing them to serve on submarines could be that their not as good as men and can??™t do the job. Therefore, they??™re not given equal opportunity, which is something the military preaches.
Another stakeholder is men who are currently serving on submarines. Humans are creatures of habit and don??™t like change. Incorporating women into submarines is going to change the culture of submarines. Looking through a submariner eyes, one might argue that they have been doing this for 100 years and it would be unfair to change the culture.
???In any case, the all-male fraternity would disintegrate, critics argue. “Just to keep themselves sane … they have discussions and rituals that just couldnt be done around … women they are working with,” says Mrs. Calhoun. “You take these things away from them, then what do you have A monotonous schedule [and] unhappy working conditions.”??? (Grossman 2000).
The last stakeholders to be affected are submariner??™s family, specifically the wives. The wives of submariners have had the comfort of their husbands going out to sea and adultery was not a topic of discussion. Due to hardship and long deployments that submariner??™s go through, it puts a lot of stress on families. Not only are they gone for a long time but the only contact they have with their husbands is via e-mail. Due to the close quarters on subs, wives may feel that temptation of adultery would be greater. Grossman (2000) adds that
Not so fast, say many submariners wives. Their top objection is the prospect that mixed-gender service in such close quarters – and under extreme tensions – may invite promiscuity. Passageways on attack subs are so narrow that sailors have to turn sideways to pass one another, they say.
Even though the wives will be affected by the decision, it won??™t be directly or a great deal.
Recommendations and Conclusion
After gathering the facts, defining the ethical issues and affected parties navy leaders will have to analyze everything to come up with the best ethical decision. Identifying the consequences and obligations are important steps in the process. The consequences of women getting pregnant and being underway range from the service member dying from an ectopic pregnancy due to the lack of medical staff or the service member having to be medivaced from the area. If a women were to be or get pregnant underway and have an ectopic pregnancy or spontaneous abortion, they could require life saving surgery. (Kane & Horn 2001). Submarines operate in many remote areas with no support. The only medical staff on board is a single corpsman. Also, navy leaders have obligations to provide a safe environment for women that are pregnant in the navy. Another consequence of letting women serve on submarines is the fair treatment of men already serving. There is already a limited amount of space that these sailors have to share. Incorporating women could cause the amount of space to decrease because you would have to accommodate for a women??™s privacy. If women are given their own bunks and heads while the number of men have to share less bunks and heads that would be unfair and could decrease morale.
Currently, some enlisted sailors must sleep on the same bunk in shifts, a practice known as “hot racking.” If women get their own berthing area, more sailors may “need to start hot racking again,” says Cheryl Morrissey of Ballston Spa, N.Y. “How is that for morale” (Grossman 2000).
Leaders of the navy have an obligation to keep things fair and not give special treatment to certain groups of people. Fair treatment is very important in any work environment.
Not allowing women to serve on subs creates consequences as well. By not allowing women to serve on subs, the navy leaders are basically saying they can??™t do the same job as men. The navy preaches equal opportunity and each command has a CMEO (command managed equal opportunity) individual to help promote this environment. If the navy doesn??™t allow women the same opportunity they could be seen as hypocrites by society. They have an obligation to give every sailor equal opportunity to succeed.
This is not an easy decision to make for the management of the navy. It??™s hard to change something that??™s been done the same for over 100 years. Yet, even though there are complications and many adjustments to be made women should have an opportunity to serve on submarines. The biggest issues the navy has to deal with are the medical implications of pregnancy and implementing privacy but still giving fair treatment. If women want to serve on a submarine they must sign a page two that states that they will not get pregnant while they are on a sea billet due to the lack of medical personnel onboard and the importance of manning to a submarine. Women should also go through screening to ensure they are not pregnant prior to deployment. To lose one sailor on a submarine can affect operational readiness greater than on a surface boat. In addition, they should add a women corpsman to the each command that has females part of the crew for privacy reasons. Another recommendation is to have an all women crew on a sub. On a trident submarine there are two crews to a boat, which could allow one of the crews to be an all female crew. If there is an all women crew there wouldn??™t be any privacy or fair treatment issues. If say there are only 10 women on a submarine and they get to share a head and have bunks for themselves, it is unfair treatment because the rest of the crew would have to share the other head. Many people cannot empathize with submariners on the issue of women getting their own bunks and head. Moral onboard a sub is very important due to the nature of being underwater with no outside contact except e-mails. Minuet things such as this can have an effect on the crew as a whole.
In conclusion, women should have the opportunity to serve on submarines because of equal opportunity. There are many obstacles that management are going to have to tackle to make it work such as proper training for the men and women, and making adequate modifications to the subs. Fairness should not be an afterthought in process of integrating women in subs. Men and women work in successful businesses in many different industries, there is no reason why they can??™t make it work and be successful under the sea too.
Grossman, E.M. (2000) Is There Room on Submarines For Women Christian Science Monitor; Vol. 92 Issue 46, p3, 0p, 1. Retrieved from:

Kane, J.L., Horn, W.G. (2001) The Medical Implications of Women On Submarines. Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory. Retrieved from:

Trevino, L.K., Nelson, K.A. (2011) Managing Business Ethics: Straight Talk About How To Do It Right. (5th ed.) New York: J. Wiley & Sons.

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