On Monday 10th December, Women in Defence UK welcomed the four Command Warrant Officers and the Senior Advisor to the Chiefs of Staff Committee (SEAC) to a discussion about gender balance in the Armed Forces. The SEAC described the role of the individuals to act as interlocutors between the enlisted men and women and the Military Chiefs, and to act as advisors, thermometers and translators both up and down the Chains of Command. They are expected to listen and take the temperature of the Armed Forces, speaking the truth to power when necessary. Each sits on their individual Service board with the SEAC sitting on the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Highly influential and vastly experienced, with over 130 years of military service between them, they are true gender advocates who can help to move the discussion forward.
The discussion, chaired by Angela Owen and Emma Burrows, both ex-military with 30 years of service between them, was wide ranging, with questions posed from an audience of men and women from the Armed Forces, defence industry and the Civil Service.
An extract of the questions and responses is shown below:
Why are there no female Command Warrant Officers?
There will be, although in some areas such as the Royal Marines who are only just opening their doors to women, the panel felt this could take time. As an example, the members of the panel averaged over 25 years of service each before appointment to the role.
Some commentators see women as a weak link, especially in the Infantry. Do mixed gender teams lack cohesion?
Women have been involved with combat on the ground in Afghanistan winning gallantry medals for their bravery when under fire. Examples were given of how women improved output by bringing a different dynamic to the team and were seen as an asset.
The percentage of women in the Armed Forces is increasing albeit very slowly. The Armed Forces have introduced many new initiatives such as flexible working and reduced commitment, that should help to attract and retain women, and make life better for men too. What are the key issues that needs to be tackled?
One panellist commented that one of the main reasons why men and women leave the Armed Forces is the challenge of fulfilling their caring responsibilities without a detrimental effect on their career. The current right postings/time in service approach doesn’t take account of the fact that personal development can continue outside the confines of military postings, having the right person with the right skills for the post is more important.
One audience members spoke of how she had felt very isolated and alone when on maternity leave. She felt this was fairly widespread and commented on the lack of Armed Forces policy about what should be provided. The discussion revealed the Royal Navy have established some good practice in helping new mothers get together whilst on maternity leave. The SEAC undertook to investigate what more could be done.
We would like to thank the Command Warrant Officers for taking up our invitation to join Women in Defence UK to discuss this important issue, which they did with care, thought and candour.