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Canadian Military Journal [Vol. 22, No. 2, Spring 2022]

Corporal David Veldman / Canadian Armed Forces photo

Chief Petty Officer Second Class Mark Stevens, Chief Boatswain Mate of Sea Training Pacific, listens to a pre-firing brief for a machine gun range aboard HMCS Harry DeWolf, 18 October 2020.

Chief Petty Officer Second Class (CPO2) Michelle Seaman joined the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve in 1986 as a Finance Clerk (now known as Financial Services Administrator). As a Class A Reservist, she is the National Military Occupation Advisor for Financial Services Administrators, as well as the Chief of the Training Department at HMCS CARLETON in Ottawa, Ontario. In her fulltime career, CPO2 Seaman is a civilian member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and leads the Victims of Crime Section, the centre of expertise for victims’ issues for the RCMP. CPO2 Seaman is a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from McMaster University and a Human Resources Professional Management Certificate from Carleton University.


In August 2020, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) announced the adoption of gender neutral rank designations to reflect “the modern, progressive Service that is the RCN today”.Footnote 1 What should have been a watershed moment in the Navy’s diversity and inclusion efforts was marred by hateful online comments that prompted then Commander of the Navy to remark that the conversation around rank provided “greater insight into who we are, including the sober reality that we all need to do more, individually and collectively.”Footnote 2 This is just one example of how the 2016 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Diversity Strategy and Action PlanFootnote 3 has not gone far enough to eliminate systemic barriers and underlying prejudice that hinder the CAF’s progress towards a culture that embraces gender diversity and inclusivity.Footnote 4 The role of the Chief Petty Officer Second Class (CPO2)/Master Warrant Officer (MWO) in leading organizational change is now, more important than ever given recent events that have shaken the trust in the highest echelons of leadership. Examination of this issue will look at some of the reasons why the CAF has not been successful in creating an environment of diversity and inclusion, recommendations for shared and individual actions, and the role that the CPO2/MWO can play in leading the change needed to create a gender inclusive culture.

To understand the role of CAF leaders in progressing culture change, the issue of gender diversity and inclusion must be considered within the framework that guides behaviours necessary for leadership and organizational effectiveness.

The Context

To date, the launch of the 2016 CAF Diversity Strategy and Action Plan has not created a culture that embraces diversity and inclusion because the intent signalled in the strategy has not been backed up by individual and collective actions that align with the Canadian Forces (CF) Effectiveness Framework of Member Well-being and Commitment and Military Ethos.Footnote 5,Footnote 6

Cover of Canadian Armed Forces Diversity Strategy

The CAF’s diversity talk must be backed up by actions that will result in implementing systemic changes to policies, procedures, trainingFootnote 7 and development processes, otherwise it perpetuates an exclusive rather than inclusive culture that negatively affects the well-being and commitment of members.Footnote 8,Footnote 9

At the institutional level, leaders are responsible for acting in ways that honour the social contract and maintaining QOL and member-support systems.Footnote 10 By championing concrete actions, such as eliminating gender binary only options and stereotypical depictions from all administrative and tactical documents, leaders can positively influence the organization to meet its obligation to the social contract by providing “respectful treatment during service”Footnote 11 for all CAF members.

At the centre of the CF Effectiveness Framework, Military Ethos guides conduct in line with ethical principles and military values.Footnote 12 For the CAF to embody a truly inclusive culture, senior leaders must lead both individuals, to ensure a climate of respect for individual rights and diversity,Footnote 13 and the institution, to establish an ethical cultureFootnote 14 by aligning their own behaviour with these values. This will take courage and involve speaking up about the behaviours of others (intentional or otherwise), identifying organizational barriers to inclusion and creating opportunities to acknowledge, address and understand unconscious bias and experiences that have shaped these perspectives in themselves and others.Footnote 15

The Environment

Cultural change is a difficult endeavour. To break the cycle of repeating approaches that garner the same unsuccessful result, an understanding of the CAF operating environment is key. A visual representation of the complex interrelationships of CAF systems affecting and affected by the issue of gender inclusivity is depicted on the mind map (see Appendix A: Mind Map - Gender Inclusivity in the CAF). The following section describes the mind map, which illustrates a systems approach to analyzing gender inclusivity in the CAF.

As a “system of systems”,Footnote 16 the CAF operates in an environment with external inputs that will influence gender inclusivity, including: public perception that the CAF is a trusted ethical organization and is reflective of Canada’s diversity (see upper left and right corners of the mind map). At the centre of the map is the issue of gender inclusivity (outlined in dark blue). Five primary CAF systems, namely Organizational Culture, CAF Diversity Strategy and Action Plan, Military Personnel Systems, Learning Environment, and Leadership (outlined in green); their sub-systems (outlined in light blue); and their interrelations branch out from the central issue.Footnote 17

Courtesy of author

Appendix A: Mind Map – Gender Inclusivity in the CAF.

Click to enlarge image

In 2016, the CAF Diversity Strategy and Action Plan was launched to create an Organizational Culture “that embraces diversity and inclusion.”Footnote 18 Five years later, multiple examples highlight that members continue to act contrary to the DND and CF Code of Values and Ethics.Footnote 19 If “core values rooted deeply within the people who make up an organization are the essence of its organizational culture”Footnote 20 then to achieve a truly diverse and inclusive culture, steps must be taken to align member behaviour with the ethical principle of respect and dignity of all persons and the values of courage, integrity and loyalty. This instills the trust not only of the Canadian public in the CAF but also the trust of CAF members in the institution.

The CAF Diversity Strategy and Action Plan has lacked effective implementation and, therefore, has not resulted in the organizational culture envisioned. Despite communication and initiatives launched, there has been little in the way of tailored communications and action plans for units, i.e., guidance for structural changes (e.g., gender neutral washrooms). Policies, manuals and forms have not been updated and continue to reflect gender binary language to the exclusion of gender diverse members. An evaluation conducted in 2020, found that “more recent information and data are needed to report on the current state of diversity inclusion within DND and the CAF.”Footnote 21 These findings should trigger a review of and adjustments, if required, to the implementation plan.

Implementation of the CAF Diversity Strategy and Action Plan should include a review of Military Personnel Systems, i.e., such as recruiting and retention, personnel administration and training using Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) with a focus on diverse gender identities to recognize and address systemic discrimination. For example, intake and exit interviews can provide information that reinforces feedback loops that are essential to a learning environment. This information can be used to identify gaps in training, awareness or performance management mechanisms that can enhance inclusion, which may, in turn, increase recruitment and retention of diverse members.

A Learning Environment ensures “the provision of continuous feedback and knowledge into the planning and implementation”Footnote 22 of key systems that will influence gender inclusivity. Conventional and innovative approaches to sharing knowledge can be used, including: training courses, e.g., Positive Space Ambassador Course, scenario-based ethics training, GBA+; education and awareness, e.g., CAF Competencies, allyship principles; and Diverse Gender Identity Awareness sessions. The CFPAS process provides feedback on behaviours and the opportunity to integrate gender inclusive specific learning into action plans.

Leadership at all levels supports a learning environment by making a visible commitment to personal learning and development.Footnote 23 Leaders must do the difficult work of self-reflection, to uncover unconscious bias, acknowledge mistakes and make necessary changes. As leaders of individuals and the institution, CPO2/MWOs provide feedback to followers, peers and superiors and are accountable for their own actions that motivate and guide behavioursFootnote 24 aligned with CF Ethics and Values and support a diverse and inclusive organizational culture.

Analyzing the Problems

For the purpose of this paper, three main problems have been identified that have prevented the 2016 CAF Diversity Strategy and Action Plan from achieving the change necessary to create an organizational culture “that embraces diversity and inclusion.”Footnote 25

Avr Caitlin Paterson / DND photo

Members of CFB Borden and the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RCEME) on parade at the RCEME 75th Anniversary Parade in Borden, Ontario, 15 May 2019.

First, the 2020 Evaluation of Diversity and Inclusion report found that a “lack of understanding of what diversity and inclusion entails (e.g., definitions and outcomes) has resulted in a lack of clear and consistent direction and guidance from senior management on how to progress on this agenda.”Footnote 26 The failure to achieve the intended cultural change is linked to ineffective communication during strategy implementation. This highlights a failure to recognize the complexity of cultural change and the importance of understanding that for members “to shift attitudes and internalize messages, (leaders) need to use influence and persuasion.”Footnote 27 The absence of clear messaging contributed to uncertainty about expected actions and outcomes.Footnote 28 Lack of trust in senior leadership resulting from a history of inaction on incidents of sexual misconduct put the reliability and trustworthiness of those delivering the message into question.Footnote 29 Appropriate attention was not paid to both the tailoring of the message and the appropriate means of delivering it to the specific audiences in the CAF.Footnote 30 The impact of this oversight cannot be overstated given the fact that even with a well-crafted message “the person on the receiving end will always understand it through the prism of his or her own emotions, preconceptions, prejudices, and pre-existing beliefs.”Footnote 31 As a result, understanding the cultural change strategy was left to chance and leaders missed the opportunity to influence the communication of this vital initiative for “optimal impact and understanding.”Footnote 32

Secondly, the 2015 External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces found the culture “hostile to women and LGTBQ members,” noted the disconnect “between the high professional standards established by the CAF’s policies on inappropriate sexual conduct…and the reality experienced by many members,” and that cultural change was paramount.Footnote 33 Recent headlines concerning inaction regarding allegations of sexual misconduct at the highest levels of the military show the 2016 CAF Diversity Strategy and Action Plan has been ineffective because the concept of military professionalism has not evolved to keep pace with the change required. “Professions are socially constructed concepts (Ewles et al. 2017; Rudvin 2007) and defined by the social biases of the dominant culture (Davies 1996),”Footnote 34 which, in the case of the military, is primarily male-dominated.Footnote 35 Systems and policies reflective of this dominant culture remain despite efforts to reform, such as applying GBA+ analysis to change activities. As pointed out in the Deschamps Report, “There is also a strong perception that senior NCOs are responsible for imposing a culture where no one speaks up.”Footnote 36 Whether through willful disregard, habituated acceptance, or survival, officers and senior Non-Commissioned Members (NCMs) who do not exemplify the core ethic of respect for all persons have not fulfilled their responsibilities as stewards of the profession to ensure it continues to evolve to meet the expectations of Canadians.Footnote 37

MBdr Lynn Danielson / DND photo

Civil-Military Cooperation team leader, Master Warrant Officer Joel Alo, thanks Out-patient Acting Manager, Gracy Dcunha for the tour of Kivalliq Health Centre in Rankin Inlet, NU during Operation NANOOK, 18 August 2017.

A third reason why the CAF Diversity and Inclusion strategy has not achieved the envisioned cultural change is that systems thinking was not applied to the implementation of this initiative. Senior leadership’s ability to “optimize the capacity for systems thinking is linked to the broader culture changing goals.”Footnote 38 Had a learning environment been in place with established processes and feedback mechanisms to ensure lessons learned informed ongoing practices and organizational learning,Footnote 39 the lack of clearly defined measures, expected outcomes and departmental plans that stalled progress on gender inclusivity may have been identified sooner than the 2020 Evaluation of Diversity and Inclusion.Footnote 40 The lack of progress on strategic outcomes is evident from examples that include: administrative forms that continue to reflect only gender binary (male and female) options, micro-aggressions in the form of greetings that exclude gender diverse individuals, and outright expressions of hateful attitudes. The disconnect between the intent of the strategy, based on the ethical principle of respect for all persons, and day-to-day examples of exclusion was not addressed or mitigated due to the absence of a learning environment where leaders commit to personal learningFootnote 41 and conduct critical analyses “to determine how the ‘taken for granted’ cultural beliefs, assumptions and associated practices influence CF systems, system relationships and the nature of system outputs.”Footnote 42

Common to each of these problems is that actions taken by the institution and individuals are not aligned with the principle of respect and dignity for all people. A key reason for this disconnect is the priority of competencies identified in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Competency Dictionary.Footnote 43 The CAF Competency Dictionary presents competencies “in order from most to least important based on the ranking scores averaged across all officers and NCMs.”Footnote 44 Tellingly, Commitment to Military Ethos ranks fourth behind Communication, Credibility and Influence and TeamworkFootnote 45 pointing to the fact that the CAF has veered off course and that Military Ethos no longer guides conduct in line with ethical principles and military valuesFootnote 46 as the foundation from which all other competency behaviours flow.


We know from past reports, such as the 2015 Deschamps ReportFootnote 47 into sexual misconduct, the 2020 Evaluation of the CAF Diversity Strategy and ongoing scandals involving the highest levels of leadership, that the organization continues to repeat past mistakes, and this is eroding our members’ and the public’s trust in the organization. We can no longer wait for a CAF-led approach to collective action. The time to take responsibility for personal actions that can affect change is now.

As leaders of people and the institution, CPO2/MWOs are not only well positioned, but have a duty to take individual action in leading cultural change. The recommendations that follow are not exhaustive. They are intended to identify specific actions that the CPO2/MWO cadre can commit to in order to begin to address the main problems identified within the scope of this paper and influence change.

These specific recommendations are based on the notion that actions are guided by the “the concept of military ethosFootnote 48 (which) is founded upon respect for the values protected by the Canadian Charter of Human RightsFootnote 49 (the Charter), including the right to dignity and security of the person”Footnote 50 and is the overarching competency from which all other CAF competencies must follow.Footnote 51 In addition, the notion of supportive allyship is introduced as an important new competency to support leaders.

According the Harvard Business Review, “allies endeavour to drive systemic improvements to workplace policies, practices and cultures” and this change “starts with individual leaders taking responsibility for our own actions and behaviours.Footnote 52

The intent signalled in the Diversity Strategy has not been backed up by individual and collective actions that are needed to achieve the cultural change necessary, which is why the CAF continues to fall into performative allyship, which involves professing support for the cause of diversity, without any tangible work required for supportive allyship, which is what is need to drive change.

Recommendation Issue 1

The absence of effective communication led to the failure to implement the Diversity Strategy due to confusion as to what “diversity and inclusion entails (e.g., definitions and outcomes) resulting in a lack of clear and consistent direction and guidance from senior management on how to progress on this agenda.”Footnote 53

Sailor 1st Class Valerie LeClair / DND photo

Members of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Winnipeg participate in a Replenishment-at-Sea (RAS) with United States Navy Ship (USNS) Charles Drew (T-AKE-10 a Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship) in the Asia-Pacific region during Operation NEON, 16 November 2020.

It is recommended that CPO2/MWOs engage senior leadership at their unit to establish Diversity and Inclusion Advisor Teams (DICAT) that report directly to the Commanding Officer. As an example, the Naval Reserve (NAVRES) recently established new Diversity and Inclusion Commander’s Advisor Teams (DICATs)Footnote 54 to influence action at the unit level. DICATS will establish effective communication through common understanding of terms and expected outcomes; feedback mechanisms to impact orders, procedures and training that need to be created/adapted to reflect unique diversity of the unit; and an opportunity for diverse voices to be heard and influence change. CPO2/MWOs are also encouraged to support and participate (when appropriate) in informal discussions such as Town Halls or Fireside Chats that can vary by size, community of interest, and rank, to ensure the voices of all ranks and perspectives are heard. To monitor the effectiveness of these activities, a climate survey of the entire unit can be used to gauge the understanding of and feelings related to diversity and inclusion to establish a baseline. Follow-up surveys could be conducted every 12 months to gauge progress.

Recommendation Issue 2

Military professionalism has failed to evolve and reflect diversity; therefore, systems and policies reflective of the male dominant culture remain despite efforts, such as applying GBA+ analysis to change activities, to reform.

As stewards of the profession, it is recommended that CPO2/MWO look within their sphere of influence for changes that can be made or advocated in systems or the application of policies that better reflect principles of inclusion. Examples of possible actions include, but are not limited to: identifying personal pronouns when introducing one’s self; reviewing training materials for gender binary language or stereotypes; facilitating the issue of both male and female uniforms to gender diverse individuals; encouraging education and awareness opportunities beyond conventional training approaches to support learning,Footnote 55 such as informal discussions, expert lecturers, interactive and scenario-based learning experiences; and mentoring supervisors on interpretation of dress regulations in light of diverse gender identities.Footnote 56 Professional networks should be leveraged to optimize knowledge sharing across the CAF, including environments and components (Reserve and Regular Force units).Footnote 57 Feedback should be solicited regularly from unit members at all levels, providing the opportunity to submit anonymous comments regarding the positive or negative impact of these activities.

Recommendation Issue 3

The CAF Diversity Strategy and Action Plan has not achieved the envisioned cultural change because systems thinking was not applied to create a learning environment to achieve this outcome. This recommendation calls on CPO2/MWOs to make a personal commitment to learning to ensure alignment of personal actions with the core values and the principles of supportive allyship. The CPO2/MWO cadre is likely to be less diverse and, as a result, naturally have an ingrained bias and prejudice based on their lived experience and length of service, many having joined before gender diversity and inclusion were priorities of the CAF. This group has the potential to influence change by committing to “personal learning”Footnote 58 and to conduct critical analyses “to determine how the ‘taken for granted’ cultural beliefs, assumptions” impact their actions.

Master Corporal J.W.S. Houck / Canadian Armed Forces photo

Master Warrant Officer Genevi ve Couture, sergeant major of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve’s National Support Element, briefs US Army members on developments over the Middle East during Operation IMPACT, in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, 20 August 2020. (Photo has been digitally altered for operational security reasons)

By leading from the front, CPO2/MWOs can be a catalyst for changeFootnote 59 and set the example for superiors, peers and followers. This will be difficult and uncomfortable because it will require putting oneself in a vulnerable position. But is important that CPO2/MWOs be willing to demonstrate this courage by educating themselves on gender issues and listening to experiences and voices of those with lived experiences; being prepared to accept feedback that may be difficult to hear with humility; and acknowledging that with this awareness comes the commitment to do better. CPO2/MWOs must also be prepared to provide respectful but frank feedback to peers/followers and superiors. CPO2/MWOs can measure their own progress through implicit bias testing before and throughout their learning journey.Footnote 60


The 2015 Deschamps Report states: “the CAF needs to engage in broad-based cultural reform to change the underlying norms of conduct that are giving rise to pervasive low-level harassment, [and] a hostile environment for women and LGTBQ members.”Footnote 61 The CAF has not made discernable progress towards this goal despite the launch of the 2016 CAF Diversity and Action Plan. Recent events continue to erode trust and confidence of both the public and CAF members that cultural change can be achieved. While the CAF struggles to improve diversity and inclusion efforts, CPO2s/MWOs have an important role to play to facilitate change now. As leaders of both individuals and the institution, the CPO2/MWO cadre has a duty to become directly engaged in and role model cultural reform.Footnote 62

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