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What if YOUR daughter wants to be a soldier?

Perhaps the only good thing to come out of yet another Defence scandal this week is the blistering speech by Lieutenant General David Morrison who delivered a clear and candid message to his troops: “those that think that it is ok to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this Army”.  And for those who don’t see the vital role women have played in current engagements and in maintaining our capability now and into the future, his  message is clear: “Get out!”




With respect, and recognizing the selfless contribution the Defence Force makes to our nation, yet another s*x scandal left me wondering: how would you react if your daughter came home and said she wants to be a soldier?  What career advice would you give her? And how do you prepare someone for this kind of culture?

In the prime of my teenage years I momentarily considered a career in the Australian Defence Force.  It was 1986 and as Top Gun became a box office sensation the world over, I may or may not have developed a rather unhealthy obsession with Mav and his aeronautical prowess!  But while my girlfriends happily adorned their bedrooms with Tom Cruise posters, I had something bigger in mind: if I was to win his heart I needed to be a match for his love interest, Charlie.  She wasn’t just a pretty face: as Mav would discover she was an astrophysicist and I’m sure I was equally in love with her character as the charismatic Cruise.

Turns out I had neither the physical discipline nor the guts to pursue Officer training, and why would Tom Cruise want to marry an Australian girl in any case, right?  So I abandoned that strategy and would probably never have given it a second thought but for two completely unrelated events this week.

First there was the announcement last week of yet another sex scandal in Defence with more than 100 Army personnel implicated in the creation and distribution of explicit and “profane” material featuring several women. While the initial details were sketchy, it has since been revealed that these serving members allegedly filmed themselves having sex with female colleagues and women they met in Kings Cross clubs and circulated the derogatory images and text using Defence computers.

To date, three officers have been suspended and another 14 army officers and non-commissioned officers also face suspension, while a further 90 mainly army personnel have been implicated in the exchanges.  The highest ranked was a lieutenant colonel, which in Army speak is a senior officer and in civilian lingo is someone who simply should know better.

That this type of behavior is still taking place, notwithstanding the Broderick Review and the skype scandal and the growing impatience with the Defence Force to get its house in order, is breathtaking.  And it certainly made me thankful for the career choice I made (or, more to the point, the one I missed!)

This treatment of women, perpetrated by the colleagues they serve side-by-side with, made me sick to the stomach.

The second and unrelated incident (on the very same day as the Defence scandal broke) was in response to my last blog post calling for politicians to leave their scaremongering at the door and focus on leading us into the future rather than the ghosts of the past.  One response, from the founder of a leading women’s advocacy group, remarked:

“I agree we should keep this in perspective, including the target market the PM was talking to – young women whom have little information about what our mothers and grandmothers endured, let alone what many of us endure today for speaking up or daring to walk into a boardroom!”

Let alone what many of us endure today for speaking up or daring to walk into a boardroom??  Wow, twice in the one day I was thankful for the career choice I made.

In my twenty years of working in finance and consulting, there have certainly been plenty of tough times but I can honestly say not a moment stands out where I’ve had to endure anything that made me feel unsafe or under personal threat for speaking out.  I was lucky to land in a career where there was no monopoly on the best idea in the room, and indeed for the most part it’s been part of my job to speak out if something didn’t seem right.

And there was certainly nothing like the kinds of sexist behaviours being reported out of Defence.

As a young, naïve country girl who’d grown up without any hint of what big business involves or what it expected of me, I do realize how fortunate I was to receive nothing but support from my seniors who tutored and mentored me, even as I asked all the dumb questions that no-one else dared utter.

As a management consultant and later a Board member and Chair, I’ve never endured ridicule in the Boardroom, I’ve never felt unsafe at work and I’ve never been humiliated in any remotely comparable way.

And it must be said that as a mum now, the thought that my child might enter a workplace filled with such internal hostility, well it simply fills me with dread.


I’ve been part of the gender debate for a decade now and it’s true that I’ve read enough, seen enough and listened enough to know that not all women are as lucky as me.

But for the record, I’ve never been more grateful for the choices I’ve made and the support I’ve received – and continue to receive – in my career.  The good news is that for at least for some of us, this is still the lucky country and perhaps from time to time we need to share these positive stories too.

Your thoughts?


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2 months ago

Jen Dalitz

What are the lessons you’re teaching your kids? We took the opportunity of a holiday long weekend to visit my mum interstate as the timing of the trip coincided with my son’s favourite AFL team battling it out against my mum’s beloved team. Perhaps only those of you with the love for AFL will appreciate why we’d plan a long distance trip around a game of footy, but suffice to say it was a passion project! With every ounce of anticipation, the game was a tough, tight duel and could easily have gone either way. Yet when the final siren sounded, it wasn’t our team that was smiling. It sure is tough for a 10 year old boy to sit within a crowd 41,000+ people all cheering for the opposite side. It was tough for him to see the exhaustion and disappointment on the faces of the players he adores. And yet, it’s so important for him to learn that his team won’t always win. There’s so many lessons in that, but the one I chose to instil is that you won’t always back the team that wins but you’ll always back the team that you love. That’s why I asked him to wear his team colours home the next day, and show his support even when the chips are down. That’s the kind of commitment I want my son to learn and the kind of team player I want him to be. PS. #gotheGiants @GWSGiants #neversurrender ... See MoreSee Less

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4 months ago

Jen Dalitz

I haven’t been here in a while as the writing has been on hold. But I was reminded today that there are things in our life that light us up. That might take us out of our comfort zone but, once you sit with it, bring you both joy and a sense of “I can do this” achievement. These moments are such a gift. So I’m curious, what’s your special thing that lights you up?

Despite (or in spit of) my professional career, these moments for me normally involve my horses. I’ll never be an equestrian Olympian, but I take great pleasure in all the lessons my horses teach me. They remind me that it’s a team effort, we’re in it together, and that if I’m prepared to give a little bit more, they will too. That’s true whether we’re on the ground taking care of their feet, or grooming, or when I’m atop riding as one. Two hearts one team.
It’s hard to describe the adrenaline and joy they bring to my life. But I’d love to know, what lights you up??
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And so, maybe time does change some things. Or women do.

Skavlan Talkshow
– They let me go at 42 because they told me I was too old to represent women's dreams. #kvinnedagen

Watch our talk show interview with Isabella Rossellini here:
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