Contribution of women celebrated

Published on CAPT John Metzl (author), LCDR Chloe Wootten (author), Russell Baker (photographer), ABIS Sarah Williams (photographer)

Some of Navy's highest ranked female officers at a recent promotion ceremony, Commodore Katherine Richards, Commodore Stephanie Moles, Rear Admiral Jenny Firman, Rear Admiral Robyn Walker and Commodore Michele Miller.  (photo: Russell Baker)
Some of Navy's highest ranked female officers at a recent promotion ceremony, Commodore Katherine Richards, Commodore Stephanie Moles, Rear Admiral Jenny Firman, Rear Admiral Robyn Walker and Commodore Michele Miller.

Interntional Women's Day 2015 is celebrated on 8 March and people across the Navy have held events to highlight the importance of gender equality and recognise its contribution to capability.

This year, marks the thirtieth anniversary of the disestablishment of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service, and Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett recognised significant gains within Navy but acknowledged that more work needed to be done to achieve equality.

Women represent 51 per cent of the Australian population and 18.7 per cent of the Navy workforce. 

"Women are critical to delivering capability into the future," he said.

Navy women have served, and continue to serve at sea and ashore; on active service, on operations and deployed around Australia and the world; as sailors and officers in a variety of roles, including in command.

(L) Able Seaman Maritime Logistics - Supply Chain Stephanie Norris dressed in full boarding party kit, prepares for a 9mm live shoot off the flight deck of HMAS Darwin.

(L) Able Seaman Maritime Logistics - Supply Chain Stephanie Norris dressed in full boarding party kit, prepares for a 9mm live shoot off the flight deck of HMAS Darwin.

Navy has set a target for female participation of 25 per cent by 2023.  To achieve this, a number of initiatives are underway to attract more women to the services.

"Some view these as special measures or initiatives designed to give women advantage over their male colleagues. For too long, however, women have been required to conform to a set of male norms in all areas of service, including initial entry, and it is these norms which the senior leadership, including myself, are attempting to change," Vice Admiral Barrett said.

"It is not enough to say that women are simply not attracted to military roles.  We must do better to attract more women and recognise that many of the choices men and women make, are the product of having been socialised against a stereotype.  

"As the young men and women of today continue to breakdown these stereotypes, so must navy change to ensure we attract and retain the best talent in a fiercely competitive labour market."

On 5 March, Director General Maritime Support, Commodore Stephanie Moles, hosted morning tea for about 40 personnel in Defence Plaza, Sydney, providing some history behind the theme for the day this year - 'let's not wait another twenty years for gender equality'.

Commodore Moles said that the greatest impediment to continuing the journey to equality was complacency.

"It is easy to look around and see women in the workplace and in some senior positions and think, there are women in the workforce, so what is the problem?

"It is only when you look back and think about how things were, that you get a feel for how things have changed," she said.

Commodore Moles spoke of her aspirations as a 17 year old of completing her Higher School Certificate, then being trained as a Naval Officer at HMAS Creswell, where she hoped to gain a degree and be given the opportunity for a fulfilling military career.

She recounted her experienced in the Townsville recruiting office in 1985 where she was told girls could not join the Navy the same way boys did.

"I was told you could not get a degree, nor could you go to sea. You had to do a short special course and go into administration jobs only.”

In 1986, as an 18 year old, she joined the first intake into the Australian Defence Force Academy.  She graduated three years later as a Supply Officer (now Maritime Logistics Officer) with a Bachelor of Science degree.  She fulfilled a number of sea postings in the first half of her career, with a highlight being her tenure as the Maritime Logistics Officer in HMAS Adelaide and completing operational deployments. She went on to complete a Masters of Business Administration and also the Australian Command and Staff Course.

Commodore Moles said that during her 29 year career she has seen Defence grow into an organisation that values diversity, offers women more and more opportunities to be the best they can be.

"It has not been a smooth ride but in her generation I have seen women become captains of warships and aircraft, general managers of industry and inspirational leaders.”

Once the formalities were completed there were many conversations held over morning tea. Able Seaman Maritime Logistics - Supply Chain Stephanie Norris said the personal story struck a chord.

"It was a bit of a reality check on how far the Navy has come from 1985 and not being given the opportunity to go to sea as a female or getting a degree," she said.

Vice Admiral Barrett also reflected on the contribution of leaders such as Commodore Moles. 

"Good decisions are made when all views are represented and, to that end, I personally value diversity within navy and within my senior leadership team. My challenge for navy is to identify innovative strategies for attracting and retaining the most talented people into the future."  

This year Navy is also supporting the 'HeForShe' solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all.

Those wishing to commit to the ‘he for she’ campaign that can do so by signing up on the website at www.heforshe.org.

Check out the Defence International Women's Day video: http://video.defence.gov.au/?mediaId=a988cd60-429a-46fc-b2d5-947bc32c4924.

Commodore Stephanie Moles, RAN, chats with Maritime Support staff at Defence Plaza, Sydney.

Commodore Stephanie Moles, RAN, chats with Maritime Support staff at Defence Plaza, Sydney.