Biden’s Department of Defense makes its mark on gender issues

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake joins the billionaires’ club, the Harriet Tubman $20 bill is back on track, and Biden’s Department of Defense takes a stand on gender issues. Have a thoughtful Tuesday.

– Defense takes action. President Joe Biden’s defense secretary pick was one of his most debated Cabinet posts, with the final choice coming down to former undersecretary of defense Michele Flournoy and retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, who ultimately ended up winning the position.

The choice disappointed some women who were gunning for Flournoy to break the glass ceiling at the Department of Defense. But Austin—who himself is the first Black defense secretary—is quickly showing that issues of gender and identity will be at the forefront of his and Biden’s agenda for the DOD.

Over the weekend, Austin ordered Pentagon leaders to review their efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment in the military. His assignment for his reports was even more ambitious than Biden’s 90-day commission to find solutions to sexual assault in the military. “I do not want to wait 90 days to take action,” Austin wrote in a memo. From the killing of soldier Vanessa Guillen to the more recent assault and death of soldier Asia Graham, it’s clear that time is—as ever—of the essence on this issue.

Then, on Monday, Biden reversed President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, reestablishing Obama-era protections for trans service-members. Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stood beside Biden in the Oval Office for that signing.

Following four years of an administration that was on the opposite side of issues of gender identity and tended to be more lenient to those accused of sexual harassment—as seen in Betsy DeVos’s decisions at the Education Department—it’s not surprising that these two issues would be top priorities for the new White House.

What is new is the urgency Austin has for addressing this issue, apart from his boss’s broader agenda. The directive on military sexual harassment was Austin’s very first since he was confirmed to the position. “This is a leadership issue,” the secretary wrote in his memo. “We will lead.”

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

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