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.