Definitely ‘More Powerful Together’ says Navy’s first female ship CO

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Sarah West (author), LSIS Jayson Tufrey (photographer)

Topic(s): International Women's Day

Jenny Daetz during her time as Commanding Officer of HMAS Shepparton (then a Lieutenant). (photo: )
Jenny Daetz during her time as Commanding Officer of HMAS Shepparton (then a Lieutenant).

Jenny Daetz joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1986, shortly after the decision was made to let women to serve at sea.

It was a brave new world. For the first time, women were allowed to join the Navy with their male counterparts, instead of having to join the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service.

For those first female trailblazers, the idea of commanding a Navy ship was a distant pipe dream. Many sailors and officers within the Navy’s ranks still believed that females had no place at sea.

Fast track 33 years and Jenny Daetz, now a Captain, has had quite a career in the Navy. The organisation has experienced rapid change since she joined. In fact, the one constant in her career has been change.

She became the first female Commanding Officer of a Royal Australian Navy ship when she took charge of HMAS Shepparton in 1997. She has also commanded the hydrographic survey crew HS Red in HMA Ships Leeuwin and Melville and the shore establishment HMAS Cairns.

Although Captain Daetz has enjoyed a rewarding career and continues to serve, she said the journey hasn’t always been easy. Walking off the beaten path is never without its challenges.

“In some cases, I felt that the eyes were on me and that anything I said or did was going to be totally scrutinised,” Captain Daetz said.

“In fact, I would not have had the career that I’ve had without the male mentors and male champions who have supported me along the way. 

“When I was a junior officer posted to HMAS Moresby, my Commanding Officer was a man named Bob Willis. He sat me down and helped me write a ten year plan to achieve my career goals, and gender was never part of the conversation.

“Then, when I was the Executive Officer of HMAS Shepparton in 1992, my Commanding Officer – a man by the name of Col Ellis - recognised that the environment wasn’t quite suited for women and took action to implement positive change.

“He talked to the ship’s company about treating me as they would want their sisters, wives and daughters to be treated if they were in my position,” she said.

Captain Daetz said the leadership demonstrated by Lieutenant Commander Ellis, inspired her to be a good leader.

“He was a great communicator and had high ethical standards and respect for everybody, regardless of gender,” Captain Daetz said. 

“The example that he set was an excellent grounding for me,’ she said, joking that grounding isn’t a great turn of phrase for a hydrographic surveyor.

“I saw a Commanding Officer and I wanted to be a Commanding Officer. There weren’t any female Commanding Officers in the Navy for me to look up to at that time, but I did have some great role models,” she said.

Captain Daetz believes diversity gives Navy a greater capability edge.

“These male mentors that encouraged women when we first joined the Navy saw the future.

“They saw what was going to happen and what needed to happen to get that capability edge to fight and win at sea.

“We have to remember that the future of warfare is changing.

“With the emergence of information warfare, space, robotics and artificial intelligence, it’s not just brute strength that’s going to win a war in the future, it’s smarts, technology and of course, diverse thinking which comes from a diverse workforce,” Captain Daetz said.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2019 is ‘More Powerful Together.’

“To me, the concept ‘More Powerful Together’ means we are at our best when men, women and gender diverse people are working together towards the greater outcome,” Captain Daetz said.

The Royal Australian Navy has held several events to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 and reflect on the theme ‘More Powerful Together’, which recognises the important role women, men and gender diverse people play in advancing gender equality.