In a recent Senate estimates hearing the Chief of Army Angus Campbell did everything he could to avoid stating the truth that the defence force uses gender targets in their recruitment process. In fact, the army recently admitted certain positions were available to men, if at six weeks from the role commencing, the female target had not been met. When questioned by Senator Fraser Anning as to whether Defence had ever commissioned a study to determine if recruiting women for combat roles would increase Defence capability, Campbell’s response was simply, “no.”
The ADF is not the only organisation trying to boost its public image by utilising gender quotas and targets. Last year the ABC reported on a campaign launched by the AFP to increase gender diversity amongst its ranks by opening-up applications for entry level positions for female recruits exclusively. The gender target for the AFP is a 50/50 representation.
As an observer, I find it hard to understand why organisations that traditionally attract higher rates of male applicants feel the need to boost gender diversity. We don’t see this drive for diversity in the beauty, fashion or nursing sectors that are female dominated. There are no programs for a 50/50 gender split at Mecca Cosmetica or Loreal.
There are several disadvantages to gender targets and quotas that are worth discussing.
An obvious disadvantage I perceive is the impact this sort of selection process will have on the psyche of the entire organisation. I have frequently been party to conversations with infantry soldiers who do not take their female colleagues seriously – the reasons intrinsically linked to the recruitment processes. Male soldiers perceive their female counterparts have not earned their position through merit, but via organisational engineering. Women in infantry serve a minimum service period of only two years compared with four years of minimum service for their male counterparts. This will have the effect as such that when a woman enters the army it will not be perceived as her success, but as a handicap given to an under-performer. How is this beneficial to women? How do you gain respect within an organisation where your colleagues feel as if they worked twice as hard as you to arrive at the same position?
Another issue I have with targets is they often come at the expense of performance. This is witnessed in the lowering of physical standards for women in infantry. How do you take an individual seriously if they can’t pass the basic fitness assessment required for the role? The BFA is not particularly challenging for a physically conditioned woman yet standards have sadly dropped to ensure more female recruits are selected. Is lowering the quality of our soldiers the price we must pay for gender equality? In a role where your life is dependent upon the skills and competency of your team mate, do you want to be in doubt of their aptitude?
The most problematic issue with gender targeting is that it takes away that innate desire to compete, to improve, to be better. If you are confident you will obtain a role within an organisation on a purely phenotypic basis, what reason do you have to be your best? The quality of simply being a woman says nothing about who you are as a person. It speaks nothing for your drive, your competency, your motivation or your determination. In fact, what the existence of gender quotas asserts is that you, as a woman NEED assistance to obtain a role within an organisation. You’re not capable without it. You couldn’t meet the requirements.
As a woman I do not find gender targets to be useful or encouraging. I myself have never experienced discrimination in the workplace and have mostly worked in male-dominated industries. As a person I would like to think that every and all success I achieve is purely mine – a function of my hard work, persistence and intelligence. I think we need to reassess the value of gender targets, and perhaps start conducting studies to test whether these targets hold any value in effectively increasing diversity in a positive manner within the workplace.