It is now almost three years since the Review team embarked on an extensive examination of the treatment of women at the Australian Defence Force Academy and in the Australian Defence Force. Since then we have tabled three comprehensive and broad ranging Reports. The work has been detailed, challenging, but always productive. More importantly, the process has moved beyond the ‘why’ to the ‘how’ – a focus on the implementation of recommendations designed to deliver increased capability through the equal treatment of men and women.
It was never an easy ask, yet evidence of real progress has emerged in the 18 months since the ADF Review Report was tabled – with momentum for reform accelerating across all three Services.
The Review and subsequent Audit phases have taken the team to some 60 military establishments across Australia, in the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan. We have spoken to thousands of ADF personnel across all three Services, from the most junior to the most senior. We have engaged with women and men whose views helped shape our recommendations and offered insight into their implementation on the ground. The opportunity to hear from these dedicated individuals has been a privilege and crucial to our work.
The recognition that a more diverse military is not only critical to ensuring greater equality among members, but goes to heart of the ADF’s future capability, informed every aspect of our recommendations. They were about creating an inclusive environment to underpin a first class military employer, able to deal with the challenges of a modern workforce. They tested established beliefs and customs, as well as organisational practices which had created barriers to gender diversity. They called for change that was unlikely to occur quickly – that instead would depend on diligence, persistence and steadfast resolve.
Tangible progress is evident by the swift establishment of the Sexual Misconduct and Prevention Response Office (SeMPRO), as well as in the creation of a restricted reporting regime – two of the most significant recommendations of the Review. These recommendations were designed to ensure that there is a centralised, safe, supportive and if necessary, confidential resource within the ADF for complainants to disclose sexual misconduct and assault.
The release of the ADF’s first annual ‘Women in the ADF’ Report provides an important public baseline against which to track gender equality. This document demonstrates the ADF’s commitment to transparent reporting of progress. Over time, the rich data contained in the reports will provide an important management and decision-making tool.
Further progress is apparent in the new approaches employed to select military leaders. Each Service is now breaking with a once rigid convention of drawing its leaders from only the combat and operations corps. The opening up of leadership paths to a broader range of personnel will allow for a greater diversity and talent mix among the ADF’s senior members and decision makers.
Real progress is clear in the implementation of innovative and often bold recruitment strategies designed to attract more women. Each of the Services has developed creative solutions, some at times unpopular, to encourage women to join the ADF and to remain a member for the long term. These strategies are already showing positive results.
Equally, steps have also been taken towards greater flexibility for all members, with Defence setting a target for the uptake of flexible work arrangements across all trained forces by December 2014. As well as benefiting individuals who choose to work in a flexible arrangement, the Services now recognise that such arrangements are a powerful retention tool.
There remains, of course, more to do. Efforts need to be strengthened, for instance to hold Commanding Officers accountable for the healthy culture of their base or unit. Leaders create the environment that determines whether their organisation has a positive culture – one where unacceptable behaviour is minimised, where reporting is encouraged and where complainants are supported. Good leadership is important to discourage misconduct and abuse. Failure to create such an environment can produce inequality, risk and reputational damage. Unless leaders are held to account, the potential for all members to thrive will be undermined.
I urge the ADF to deliver, as a priority, a robust sexual ethics program right across the ADF and into recruit and training schools. Targeted sexual ethics training is fundamental to establishing a positive ethical climate. It is fundamental to ensuring that all members build healthy relationships with each other based on mutual respect. It is also fundamental to minimising the risk of unacceptable behaviour and the exploitation of the most vulnerable across the organisation. I welcome efforts by the ADF to develop the program in collaboration with an expert educator and I strongly encourage its roll out to occur as soon as possible.
Importantly, the Services must be vigilant against a backlash directed at women as a result of the cultural change process. Our own research has found that reform is seen by some as giving women ‘special treatment’, as leading to a ‘lowering of standards’ and of ‘undermining merit’ in the promotion process. In fact, these measures are designed to ensure everyone has access to the same opportunities and this does not occur at the expense of others. Any backlash must be vigorously challenged to avoid compromising the reforms. Greater engagement with members on the imperative for change, including enhancing their awareness about the link between reform and operational effectiveness, will go a long way to address these attitudes. Similarly, getting the message through to the middle ranks – commissioned and non-commissioned officers alike – and ensuring they are a part of the change process, will help prevent any negative repercussions towards female personnel.
Across the ADF reform is in motion. Senior leaders are determined to shape a constructive, inclusive workplace, while visits to bases revealed genuine commitment on the part of many thoughtful personnel. The foundations are in place to ensure women stand on an equal footing to men in the military. Just as crucially, the cultural reforms will improve the capacity of the ADF to function effectively – not just in a competitive labour market, but in an increasingly complex military environment.
Building on these foundations will take time, which is why I am especially pleased that the Australian Human Rights Commission will continue to collaborate with the ADF to support its broader cultural change agenda over the next few years.
There have been many people across the ADF who have assisted the Review and Audit teams enormously. Members of the ADF’s Organisational Development Unit – Group Captain Dee Gibbon, Lieutenant Colonel Alison Berlioz-Nott, Lieutenant Colonel John Duff, Dr Lisa Arnold, and their head, Air Commodore Henrik Ehlers – were tireless in their assistance with base visits, our numerous requests for information and the coordination of the Service responses to our recommendations. Carmel McGregor, Deputy Secretary, Defence People and Gerard Fogarty, former Major General with the Australian Army, provided invaluable assistance and advice.
The opportunity to conduct the Review and the Audit would not have occurred without the support of the ADF senior leadership, particularly the robust engagement of the Service Chiefs, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of Defence. Despite the challenging nature of our work they were determined that progress would be made on their watch.
In particular, I wish to acknowledge General David Hurley, Chief of the Defence Force who at all times actively supported the Review and the Audit. General Hurley steadfastly pushed forward with cultural change no matter how difficult or unpopular the reforms were. His leadership has been instrumental in championing cultural change over the last three years.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the many courageous and committed ADF women and men who spoke to the team. Many told us about their rewarding and positive experiences in the military, whilst some disclosed experiences of deep trauma. Thank you for revealing your experiences and generously offering suggestions for change.
It has been a privilege to lead the Defence Review and Audit. Cultural change of the kind envisaged by the Review takes time. I congratulate the ADF on its significant reform efforts to date and look forward to continuing to work with the men and women of the ADF. This investment in cultural evolution matters. The result, we should always remember, will be a world-class 21st century Defence Force of which all Australians can be proud.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission