From education to employment

Can the Defence Sector Achieve Gender Parity?

Despite accounting for 49.6% of the world population (2017), women remain largely under-represented in the defence sector.

Diversity, in any walk of life, is positive. The more diversity, the better the representation, and so, the better the decision making.

In order to achieve better gender parity, the European Union has adopted the “European Parliament’s Resolution on Gender Equality in the EU’s Foreign & Security Policy.”

It’s important to note that a level playing field in terms of opportunity for men and women is not representative of true equality, but rather is one piece of a rather complex puzzle. Representation of communities including LGBTQI+ and People of Colour is also essential to true equality.

That said, prior to attempting the achievement of equality, the defence sector must analyse and fully understand the barriers that exist to representation and that, ultimately, prevent participation.

A background to gender disparity in defence & #SHEcurity

Back in 2000, the UN introduced what is known as the ‘UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security’.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of this Resolution, and in a bid to highlight the need for more women in defence positions around the global, #SHEcurity was launched. The campaign notes how: “there are countless women shaping peace and security around the world. Yet still too often, they remain unrecognized and under-represented in the field…”

The Index, which analyses areas of politics, diplomacy, military, policing, international missions, and thinking security, illustrates that the higher the seniority, prestige, and usability, the lower the representation of women. Furthermore, an overall increase in female participation unfortunately does not translate into an increased number of women in senior positions.

Three of the key takeaways from the #SHEcurity report are as follows:

  • Female participation in political roles such as foreign affairs is increasing, albeit at a rather slow rate. Gender parity across the nations included, which features the likes of the EU & G20 countries, is 37 years away, based on current trends.
  • In terms of diplomatic roles, only 25.5% of ambassadors were women across all featured nations.
  • The military is the worst in terms of female representation with only 11.4% of roles filled by women. Alarmingly, when a timescale is assigned, countries are in fact 155 years away from gender parity.

The report goes on to note how “gender equality is at the core of peace and security. We have to take it seriously, or we will ultimately fail to build and strengthen peace, security, and development.”

What does the situation look like around the world?

Calling upon various different data points from the #SHEcurity index, 2021, we’ve highlighted just some of the biggest stand out statistics in terms of women and defence.

Firstly, in terms of politics, and women in parliament, only two countries included in the index were achieving and overachieving in regard to female representation. The UAE has 50% of women in political positions while Rwanda (the nation ‘over-achieving’) has 61.3%.

When we consider foreign affairs committees, Mexico and New Zealand lead the way in terms of the percentage of women in positions within national parliaments. Nations within Sub-Saharan Africa, meanwhile, are the closest to achieving gender parity when it comes to females in foreign ministerial positions – however, despite having an average of 40.7% of women as foreign ministers, this isn’t representative of the continent as a whole, with North African nations sitting at the other end of the table.

Worldwide, when it comes to defence ministers, of the 103 countries featured, only 19 had females in the role. More worrying still, in regard to female ambassadors, not a single country achieved gender parity.

But, what’s the UK doing to quash the gap?

UK efforts in terms of gender parity in the Defence Sector

As recently as 2 March 2022, the UK Defence Sector pledged to work together to build a more gender balanced environment by launching a charter for women.

The MOD was joined by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Government Equalities Office in recognising that more work is required to enhance the gender balance in the sector.

The women in defence charter, as it has been labelled, details a need to see women represented and succeeding at all levels across the defence sector.

Reiterating the message we’ve outlined above, the women in defence charter notes how: “a balanced workforce is good for government, good for business, good for customers and consumers, for profitability, workplace culture, for prompting prosperity and stability, and for showing everyone matters in building stronger and peaceful communities.”

By committing to the charter, organisations agree to:

  • Having one member of their senior executive team who is responsible and accountable for gender inclusion and diversity
  • Setting internal targets for gender diversity in senior management
  • Publishing annual progress reports against any targets online

Appropriate language

Army Technology’s journalist, Harry Lye, has discussed one way in which gender neutrality can be better achieved in the defence sector – by removing the male dominant language that “permeates the very fabric of the UK’s Armed Forces.”

Lye referred to personnel answering the phone with ‘sir’, long-standing usage of terms such as ‘manning’ equipment, and the fact female pilots are called ‘airmen’ and female sailors are called ‘able seamen’.

Removing barriers relating to language and similarly bringing outdated defence-style language into the modern world is by no means an easy feat – despite the fact it might seem that way. The use of more inclusive terms involves a concerted effort to ensure that doing so becomes standard practice. Emma Salisbury, PHD Student at Birbeck and defence sector specialist, noted how: “the use of gendered language ‘makes the space very exclusionary’” adding that “gendered language is not only damaging to women, but also non-binary or transgender service members and defence industry professionals.”

Angela Owen, founder of Women in Defence, added: “Language reflects culture. An imbalance in the use of masculine gendered language can signal to women that they do not fit or belong within that culture.”

How businesses can help in increasing gender balance within defence

It doesn’t just depend on more women taking a seat at the table of executive boards in the Ministry of Defence or non-masculine terms being used across the military to achieve gender equality – it involves a united effort by the defence sector as a whole, and that extends right through the supply chain.

What we have then is an opportunity for businesses to play a part in a future based on equality. The defence sector wants to work with SMEs and if your business is one which is championing equality, with female leads in powerful positions, an ethos built around gender balance, and a company culture reflective of what would be seen as ideal when it comes to female empowerment, then chances are you could perform particularly well when it comes to applying for defence contracts.

What lies ahead is uncertain, but one thing is for sure, equality will reign.

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