Chief of Army address to the Institute of Public Administration Australia 2017 International Women’s Day event
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Good morning Senator Cash, Secretary de Brouwer, IPAA members, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It’s a pleasure to join you to mark International Women’s Day 2017; and thank you to the IPAA Committee for your kind invitation to address this morning’s event. I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are meeting, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.
The quality of our people matters greatly to the Australian Army. 45,000 Australians volunteer to serve in our Army; 30,000 full-time, 15,000 part-time. This is sufficient for our nation’s needs but relatively small by comparison to Indo-Pacific standards. Being of modest size, our Army needs to be, and I believe is, one of the world’s best equipped and trained armies. To fully harness the potential of that equipment and training, we need to attract the best young Australians.
Our job is also getting harder.
Extremist individuals are empowered by global communications and the proliferation of low cost, highly lethal weapons. Assertive states are more willing to pursue their interests by the posturing or use of military force. And an unstable climate may in time threaten the security of some of the world’s most populated regions. Each and all of these challenges won’t be met by size of force or technology alone.
More than ever before, the quality of our people will make us the land force Australia requires now and into the future. And so we unashamedly aspire to have the best people serving in our Army, even though we are unlikely to ever have the most. But we will consistently fall short of this aspiration if we are not routinely and consistently bringing the most talented Australians into our team.
With women making up just over 50% of Australia’s population, I believe it to be a truth self evident that women represent at least 50% of our national talent and potential. This is a point not often made. The norm of talent maximisation should be organisations that reflect a roughly 50/50 gender mix. It’s just logical.
For historical, functional and prejudicial reasons, the Army has and continues to be an organisation strongly at odds with this norm. We need to change if we are to attract and retain our full fair share of talent and potential of our citizens. To do so will make the Army a better, more versatile and capable force. Looking beyond Army and Defence, we see the benefits of gender balance every day. For example, during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, those major US financial institutions with strong representation of women at leadership and board level generally best weathered the storm. Similarly, in team endurance and extreme adventure sport competitions, the groups that consistently achieve the best results under trying and arduous conditions are those that include both men and women. Academically, some of the best university entry scores out of Australia’s high schools are achieved by our young women.
Similarly, women are routinely among the highest ranked and most awarded graduates from Australian universities. And at the completion of their tertiary studies, these same women are also more likely than men to enter professional employment in their field of expertise.
But perhaps the most telling observations, as I run around Lake Burley Griffin in the morning, often dodging waves of MAMILs (middle-aged-men-in-lycra) casually cycling around me, it’s Australia’s women I see out pushing themselves on a hard run, at times by a ratio of 20 women to 1 man. I know this because I count them. So what’s not to like?
With these points in mind, and as we mark International Women’s Day, I’d like to take just a few moments to highlight some of the successes and achievements of Army’s currently serving women.
The representation of women in our full time force is still only 12.7% and it’s not enough. But 18% of our commanding officers are women. And many of our commanding officers are ably supported by women in regimental sergeant major appointments – the senior soldier in a unit. At higher levels we have two major generals, 10 brigadiers and 36 colonels are women, each of whom has earned her place by her performance.
In recent years our women have also served with distinction in key operational and deployed command appointments including:
- Both the Deputy Commander and the Regimental Sergeant Major of the ADF joint task force in the Middle East;
- The Commander of our Afghanistan Task Group; and
- Commanding officers of several deployed task units.
Encouragingly, 22% of our young lieutenants are women – change is happening. And, I am particularly proud of three of our young women who are currently playing in the AFL Women’s national competition.
These examples are real and compelling instances of the fine work and outstanding successes of Army’s serving women. All in all, our serving women are a vital part of our Army, not only in terms of their individual performance, but also for the diversity in both thought and approach that a gender-balanced workforce brings to us organisationally.
Quite simply, and unsurprisingly, women are a great source of talent for Australia and I want more of that talent in our Army. But capability drivers aside, I’m equally motivated to see more women serving in our Army because it is the right thing to do.
As an iconic national institution, the Army is ethically bound to judge people on their abilities and potential, rather than through the lens of any bias, gender or otherwise; to ensure we give our people every opportunity to realise their full potential while serving their country.
Being true to this approach, Army has now removed the last remaining barriers to the types of service in which our women can participate. Those women who both want to and can serve in the combat arms of our Army are now able to do so. All our people are volunteers both to service and to join the specific employment category they choose, such as infantry, engineers or ordnance.
We spent three years with the Defence Science and Technology Group determining objective, scientifically-derived, gender non-specific, workplace fitness tests for each employment category. If you volunteer and pass the test, you’re in! Man or woman, you have earned your place in the team. As a result, across both our full-time and part-time components, about 20 women are now serving in our infantry corps.
I’m advised that there are another 60 in training with aspirations to be infantry soldiers, including 15 serving under our Gap Year program. More broadly, 50 women are also currently serving in our armoured and artillery units, with 45 more undergoing training with a view to joining them.
Importantly though, there are no quotas or directed targets at play here. In fact, I don’t expect to see many women choosing to serve in our combat arms.
I’m an infantryman and I would summarise the role as: ‘walk a long way, carry heavy things, sleep in a hole, be prepared to shoot someone and have a shower … perhaps next week.’ My time in the infantry was challenging but also very professionally rewarding, and characterised by an extraordinarily positive sense of teamwork.
However, most men don’t find that sort of thing attractive, and so I expect even fewer women will. That’s okay. Removal of gender-based barriers to service in Army will not be accompanied by women being press-ganged, coerced or pressured to serve in a combat role. To do so would be completely counter to what we are trying to achieve. Removing all gender-based barriers is about choice, opportunity and supporting our people to achieve their professional goals.
Now, I’ve spent much of my time this morning focussing on the many successes of women within Army and broader Australian society. That said, there is clearly still work to be done and obstacles to overcome. We cannot shy away from such hurdles.
To quote the 2013 Male Champions of Change report on Advancing Women in Leadership, ‘We have to adapt our approaches…….Choosing not to act is to accept the current state, which we are not willing to do.’
As a Male Champion of Change I ask you, how might we:
- disrupt the status quo to create productive new workplace norms;
- recognise and remove bias in the selection of persons for positions of leadership and influence; and
- dismantle barriers for carers through more flexible workplaces.
Speaking more specifically to my own institution, I know from some particularly confronting feedback provided through research recently conducted by Army and the Australian Human Rights Commission, that there are still a concerning number of people within Army who want to return to the world of yesteryear.
There are those who resist or deny change. I appreciate that change can be confronting. But change for the better we will. ‘But what of combat capability!’, I hear our detractors decry. Based on the most successful international western comparators to-date, we can expect about 85 women to join the infantry - clearly the collapse of Western civilisation as we know it - or maybe not.
Maybe great teams, operating world class equipment, led by inspiring commanders, harnessing the full breadth of our talented citizens is a better way to build an Army fit to win our nation’s wars.
As an organisation that prides itself on completing the mission, Army is committed to applying time, people, capital and attention to achieving success. We aspire to have 25% representation of women in Army by 2025.
We are well on the way to achieving this, but well behind Navy and Air Force in doing so. A bit of competition is healthy. I doubt the Army will ever be a 50/50 workplace, but it can be much more than it is today, because I haven’t yet got the full measure of talent our Army needs.
Thank you again to the IPAA Committee for the opportunity to speak this morning. I look forward to the panel session.