Women inside and outside the force are working hard to lift representation and recognition.
TO those in the defence sector, the impact women have had in various professional fields is unmistakable.
Western Australia has had women acknowledged as winners of industry young achiever awards, recognised as star graduates of the Defence Industry Pathways Program, leaders of small-to-medium businesses and in senior positions within major prime contractors.
Women hold some of the most senior roles in the Australian Defence Force in the state, including the post of Senior Military Officer in recent years.
We have also had federal politicians from WA as defence industry minister (Melissa Price) and defence minister (Linda Reynolds).
Each are wonderful professionals and people I have learned from.
Defence remains a sector that is predominantly male but that is beginning to change.
I recognise that for many women I admire in this sector, that has been, and continues to be, an issue of some concern.
Despite their achievements, women are still under-represented in most defence-related rooms.
This is a legacy issue and certainly not by design.
I am pleased to highlight some recent efforts to make women in industry and those that are veterans feel more welcomed and supported.
Returned and Services League of WA vice-president Miquela Riley has been instrumental in launching workshops at her organisation that seek to optimise support and engagement with female veterans.
Ms Riley, a Navy veteran, says: “Only nine per cent of our service members are female, which is significantly less than the average of women serving across the ADF, at approximately 19 per cent.
“RSLWA recently held two workshops to understand what female veterans knew about RSLWA, and whether there were any barriers to them becoming members or accessing the services and support provided by our organisation.”
Ms Riley leverages her corporate and ADF experience to highlight the benefits of a diverse group, the camaraderie, networks, services and support that is available through RSLWA.
Boosting female representation within RSLWA membership remains the objective.
Ms Riley cites recent census data that illustrate the increased likelihood of veterans volunteering in local communities.
She points out “the suicide rate for female veterans from 2002 to 2017 was 115 per cent higher in comparison to the general female Australian population”, generating a greater urgency to support veterans.
Rachel Falzon, director of defence consultancy firm Novel Management, and Shannon Hennessy, a marketing and communications consultant specialising in defence industry and veterans issues, were central figures in establishing a women’s networking event in collaboration with Defence Industry Networking.
Ms Falzon observed that “the demographic at most defence events is a five per cent female to male ratio”.
She noted the excellent female attendance at the first event.
“There was an overwhelming level of support from our male industry colleagues and diversity champions,” she said.
Ms Falzon has drawn inspiration from figures such as Rear Admiral Wendy Malcolm and Captain Angela Bond, highly respected leaders in our sector, who she says provide a “realistic reference point for women joining our industry”.
Ms Falzon notes the expression ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’ as particularly relevant in this discussion.
Beyond the events, Ms Falzon earmarks key elements for driving diversity, beyond just raising awareness, into the decision-making sphere.
Ms Falzon calls for “equitable practices in businesses that are not to the exclusion of men but are about equality for all”.
This includes equitable parental leave rights for both parents, potential incentives for inclusionary hiring practices and appropriate “acknowledgement of businesses that are demonstrating inclusive practices”.
I am grateful to know both women. I have always admired their professionalism, passion and purpose.
I encourage readers to share this column with female colleagues or friends, to follow RSLWA or DIN, or Ms Riley or Ms Falzon, on LinkedIn for further event notifications.
The defence sector has a significant mission. It cannot be achieved with only 50 per cent of the population.
We need our best and brightest, regardless of gender, to feel welcomed, empowered and supported.
Thanks to these initiatives, it is now one step closer.
• Kristian Constantinides is the general manager of Airflite, and chairperson of AIDN-WA; the opinions expressed are purely his own