The Gender Diversity Landscape in Defence Industry

By Kinexus on 16 May 2019

Australia is not short on male-dominated industries: Mining, construction, manufacturing, warehousing, engineering; all sit well under the 50% mark when it comes to equal male/female representation. But that’s not even considering one of the most influential and male-dominated spaces within the Australian business world: the Defence Industry.

We need to talk about gender diversity within our industry: what does it look like, what are we doing about it, and why is it so important for us to get it right?

The Defence Industry still has one of the lowest rates of gender diversity in Australia. Overall, we’re one out of five industries in the country with female representation making up less than 20% of the workforce.

The number of women in management positions has dropped from 21% in 2015-16 to 17.4% in 2017-18. Not a great result by anyone’s standards, especially when you consider the fact that other notoriously male-dominated sectors – mining, for one – grew their female representation over the same period.

To see these stats explained in more detail, download your copy of our Defence Industry Insights – Fifth Edition here.

But it’s not all bad.

At the executive level, we’ve seen the number of women in CEO positions increase from 0% to 10% – a huge improvement, when you consider our history and putting us at just 6.5% below the national average. People like Christine Zeitz of Leidos, and Gabby Costigan at BAE Systems, are paving the way for women in STEM-related skill sets everywhere.

Females now make up 32.% of all graduates within the Defence Industry, an increase of 6.3% since 2015-16. This looks promising, especially considering that all but one of the Australian Defence Magazine (ADM) Top 20 Defence SMEs have committed to formal strategies to support gender equality.

So why is this so important?

You don’t have to look far to find evidence that diverse workplaces are more successful than others. Research has proven time and time again that teams made up of people of different backgrounds, gender, and personalities can create a more compatible, complementary, and cooperative work environment. Mixing introverts with extroverts, planners with people who are more spontaneous, detail-obsessed workers with big picture thinkers and women with men give companies a far greater chance of success compared to those that stay complacent.

People in mixed gender teams are more generous to each other and work together in a more egalitarian way. It’s all about building meaningful relationships and creating successful work processes through constant feedback and collaboration. Studies also show that teams with an equal gender mix perform better than those that are male-dominated; so, if you want to give your organisation the best chance of success, you’d better start mixing things – or people – up.

The Defence Industry knows this – that’s why they’re putting so many initiatives in place to encourage it. Some defence companies are taking a more subtle approach, like trying to change their culture to be more appealing to a diverse group of people. Others are being a bit bolder.

Austal recently made the decision to take on 45 female-only apprentices this year; no males. The previous year, their apprentice scheme was made up of one woman and 95 men. Austal’s CEO, David Singleton, offers a refreshing perspective, saying that the company realised they were fostering an environment that was neither inclusive nor productive.

In July 2018, the inaugural Australian Defence Magazine (ADM) Women in Defence Awards were held in Canberra, with the aim being to celebrate the contributions women make to the Defence Industry, with the next one coming up on 11th July this year. As a whole, the defence community is doing so much more to recognise and highlight the work women do, the challenges they face and the ground they’re gaining, and the overall positive impacts of our combined efforts.

Here at Kinexus, we’re also making changes. We created The Future Through Collaboration (TFTC) in partnership with some of the leading companies within the Australian Defence Industry. TFTC is a collaborative effort, where people from all sides of the sector are coming together to tackle the issue of gender diversity.

History can’t be changed overnight. The attitudes and culture that have led boys and men into STEM or defence roles will take a while to counteract; but the work we do now to address inequality – collectively and as a community – is helping to build a stronger, more diverse, sustainable Defence Industry; and, with that, a brighter future for all.

By Sophie Richards


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