Ensuring that Navy remains focused on all aspects of diversity is a key priority for the Chief of Navy, which is why he has recently appointed a Strategic Advisor on Islamic Cultural Affairs.
Captain Mona Shindy, RAN who heads up the Guided Missile Frigate System Program Office (FFGSPO) accepted the position in March 2013 and has welcomed the opportunity to create better understanding amongst Defence members and the wider Islamic community.
“This is an exciting time for Navy and I think we have a real chance to open a lot of peoples’ eyes and encourage discussion on issues from different lenses of view.”
“Throughout my life I’ve often felt like a bridge straddling communities. I hope this new position will help close this divide for the good of all,” said Captain Shindy.
Currently there are 15 Muslims serving in Navy and 88 employed across the ADF, a figure that Captain Shindy aims to increase.
“These numbers are quite small, which shows that perhaps a career in the ADF is not part of the thinking of the Australian Islamic community.”
Vice Admiral Griggs said he was very pleased that Captain Shindy had agreed to work directly for him on this critical issue.
"It is not just about recruitment, but about enhancing the diversity and capability of the Navy and gaining a much deeper understanding of many of the navies we work with on a regular basis," said Vice Admiral Griggs.
While the reasons for the lower representation of Muslims within Navy are yet to be identified, Captain Shindy says misunderstandings and misconceptions on both sides are probably playing a part.
“There may be a lack of confidence from members of the Islamic community in relation to whether or not they would be accepted as media reports on apparent ‘Muslim’ activities are generally more negative than positive. My role will be to explore and dispel the myth that the behaviours of a few unsavoury characters operating on the fringes of a community somehow represent the values and principles of the whole,” said Captain Shindy.
“By starting the conversation, Navy will get a better understanding about Muslims’ attitudes and beliefs and about their compatibility with the ADF. Likewise, the Australian Muslim community will have greater opportunities to see the Navy in particular, and the ADF more broadly, as an employer of choice. From there we can see what can be done to tap into some of the talent that might be out there,” said Captain Shindy.
It’s not all about recruitment though with education firmly on the agenda.
“As a Navy we frequently work with other navies that are predominantly Muslim. This is a chance to educate our people a little more about the way Muslims think about life in general. This will help us to engage and operate together better and form stronger ties,” said Captain Shindy.
Captain Shindy says the Navy is already well positioned to improve cultural sensitivity and has been embracing change for years.
“As a woman, as a Muslim and as an engineer I have had a box seat to seeing Navy evolve. During my 24 years in Defence there’s been a lot of change. Have there been challenges - yes absolutely. Has there been resistance by some individuals with certain views, yes but we are getting there. Navy today is much more inclusive and we’re moving in a much more positive direction day by day,” said Captain Shindy.
While the ADF already has broad policies which are inclusive of religious difference, there are some new initiatives already in train which will pull down some of the barriers. An example of this is the recent approval of Islamic attire as an option for Navy uniform.
“The introduction of the hijab and looser fitting uniforms as an option removes one barrier which could prevent a female of Islamic faith considering a career in Navy.
“This is a good example of Navy actively pursuing change and opening the door to people who may not have previously thought about joining the organisation because of perceived restrictions on dress,” said Captain Shindy.