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The Strategic Imperative of Diversity in Defence: Insights from DSEi 2023 

The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi) 2023 event provided a platform for thought leaders to converge and discuss pressing issues in the defence sector. We’re proud to lead on the standout sessions, having generated quite the audience on the day! Women in Defence UK, together with the Women in Defence Charter, hosted a panel talk which delved deep into the strategic importance of diversity and inclusion in defence.

Our speakers included:

  • V Adm Philip Hally, Chief of Defence People, UK Ministry of Defence
  • Ruth Cairnie FEI, Chair, Babcock International Group
  • HE Judith Gough CMG, British Ambassador to Sweden
  • Dr David Banks, Lecturer in War Studies (Wargaming), Kings College London

All discussing on this theme: Changing the Game: Avoiding groupthink and maintaining the strategic advantage

Here are the top insights from our esteemed panel:

A Holistic Approach to Defence and Security

Judith Gough CMG, the British Ambassador to Sweden, emphasised that the realm of defence and security has evolved beyond traditional military responses. She said:

Defence and security is so much more than a traditional military response therefore it requires a whole society approach and a diverse team of people to support it.

Judith Gough CMG

The British Ambassador to Sweden

Drawing from Sweden's Total Defence Concept, Judith highlighted the importance of every member of society in the defence of a nation. This inclusive approach, she believes, is the key to preventing groupthink and fostering innovation, as evidenced by Ukraine's success in leveraging volunteers from diverse backgrounds.

Rethinking Wargaming and Design

Dr. David Banks from Kings College London brought attention to the challenges and opportunities in the field of wargaming. He noted the gender disparity, attributing it to early exposure among males. However, he also observed,

In my experience, because of their fresh thinking and approach, the most interesting designs come from people who are not from a wargaming experience.

Dr. David Banks

Kings College London

This perspective underscores the value of diverse inputs in strategic design and planning.

Diversity as a Strategic Need

V Adm Philip Hally of the UK Ministry of Defence articulated the critical link between diversity and operational effectiveness. For him, diversity is not about optics; it is about necessity. He remarked,

Diversity and Inclusion is not about what defence wants to look like but what defence needs to look like.

V Adm Philip Hally

UK Ministry of Defence

Reflecting on the changing demographics of the UK, he emphasised the need for defence to be representative of the nation it serves, advocating for flexibility in recruitment and a culture that supports diverse career trajectories.

Boardroom Reflections and Organisational Culture

Ruth Cairnie FEI, Chair of Babcock International Group, stressed the importance of organisational introspection. She posed a pertinent question:

Is what is being discussed in your boardroom trickling down to the rest of the workforce?

Ruth Cairnie FEI

Chair of Babcock International Group

For Ruth, the goal of diversity initiatives should be clear outcomes and improved performance. Senior leaders, she believes, play a pivotal role in shaping an inclusive culture, not just through policies but through their actions and behaviours

Beyond the Panel: Our commitment to equity in defence

Guided by the principle of 'Deeds not Words', Women in Defence UK is championing the cause of gender equity in the defence sector. The insights from the DSEi panel further underscore our unwavering commitment to this mission. As we work towards the Women in Defence Charter’s ambition of filling 30% of all roles in the defence sector with women by 2023, we recognise the importance of achieving a critical mass. This is not just about numbers but about fostering an environment where diverse voices can challenge norms, inspire innovation, and drive meaningful change. Our influential network, annual awards, and mentoring programmes serve as testament to our dedication. We invite you to join us in this transformative journey. Together, let's put words into actions and reshape the defence sector into a space that truly values and celebrates diversity.