Employment Equality

DND photo IS01-2015-0005-058 by Sergeant Yannick Bédard

Master Seaman Rebecca Gallant, Port Inspection Diver from Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic), stands on parade during the closing ceremonies for Phase 1 of Exercise Tradewinds 15 in St. Kitts and Nevis, 9 June 2015.

Barriers to Women in the Canadian Armed Forces

by James Pierotti

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Lieutenant-Colonel James Pierotti is an Air Combat Systems Officer with 4,500 hours in the C-130 Hercules in the tactical airlift, search and rescue, and air-to-air refueling roles. He is an author of Canadian search and rescue history, has commanded Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Victoria, and he currently teaches joint targeting at the NATO School Oberammergau in Germany.


On a sunny spring day in the 1980s, I came home from high school in a foul mood. We had been studying employment legislation and practice in Canada and we had analyzed an example of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police where a man and woman had been left competing for the last available new position. The woman had been selected despite scoring five percent less than the man on the exam, although still way above the grade needed for entry. Given the difficult employment climate of that time, I was incensed, not only for the man who failed to gain employment despite scoring better, but for my own chances of employment. The concern I had was that no matter how hard I worked or how well I scored, I could still fail to get a job after high school because hiring white males now might have come with barriers, and that seemed deeply unfair. My father helped me put the matter into better context, and more on that later, because the views of young men are deeply relevant to the issue of barriers in employment.

DND photo IS2013-2006-103 by Master Corporal Marc-Andre Gaudreault

Lieutenant Sharon Ong, a reservist combat engineer and a liaison officer for the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), assesses the needs of the local population during Operation Renaissance in Estancia, Philippines, 25 November 2013.

Barriers to employment are nothing new, but it is important to identify where these barriers exist for women in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), how they have affected military employment in the past, and how they affect women in the CAF today. The importance of women to the military will become crystal clear as one of the few areas of recruiting potential to increase the overall size of the CAF, and to meet Canadian Government policy. This article will outline the status of women in the Canadian military, and it will look at historical barriers to female employment in the CAF, starting with the Great Wars of the 20th Century, and moving into the 1950s. The rapid changes in the 1980s and beyond towards what may appear to be a removal of all barriers, will highlight the good work of the CAF in fixing poor policy over recent decades. Research will show that barriers have been harsh towards women, and it is a recent development that men and women appear to be treated equally in the military workplace. Moving along, this article will look at the barriers that remain. Some are obvious, some are not, but this article argues that significant barriers remain to female recruiting and retention in the CAF.

While men may see and experience barriers to their employment, the cautionary tale here will be that great progress towards the equal employment of women has not eliminated a male-dominated culture in the CAF that acts as a barrier to females in the military workplace. For the CAF to become an employer of choice, with diversity embraced, men must help solve the remaining problems. As the world remains a troubled place, and the CAF is needed to grow and keep Canada safe, all of us need to do what we can to remove barriers and grow the force with female participation to the levels demanded by our Government. This is not an issue that just affects women, but rather, it affects the entire Canadian military force.

Women in the Canadian Military

The current context of female employment, not just in Canada but worldwide, suggests that equality between men and women remains a dream for the future. Well-known diversity textbook authors Abramson and Moran write that worldwide, “…there remains a significant gap in female representation, compensation in the upper echelons of the global workforce, as well as having the same rights as men in all aspects.”1 In Canada, female employees make up 46 percent of the workforce even though they make up half of the population, and “female employees were found to be concentrated in entry-level to mid-level positions.”2 Despite legislation and societal expectation, the reality is that there are not the same employment opportunities for women as there is for men. In internal documentation, the CAF agrees, stating that “systemic barriers remain in place, making the military a less than desirable choice for the majority of young Canadian women.”3 Undeniably, there are factors limiting the full range of female employment, both globally and in Canada.

That there is an insufficient number of women in the military is a matter of fact and an international concern. The United Nations mandates that, “for observer missions like the one in South Sudan, 15 percent of each country’s staff officer and military observer positions must be filled by women.”4 One would think that this would not be an issue for the CAF, but in fact, Canada almost lost a 2018 mission to South Sudan because the force it planned on sending did not include a sufficient number of women for the deployment. This embarrassing situation was likely due to the small number of administrative positions within the Canadian contingent: areas where women are more prevalent.5 As Canada has been very vocal about women’s rights in the military and worldwide, this country needs to ensure that it also ‘walks the walk’ of women empowerment. The situation does highlight, however, that global standards are at play in the representation of women for missions that represent Canada, and the CAF must meet these United Nations female-employment standards.

DND photo 20200201PRA0016D001 by Corporal Yongku Kang

Leading Seaman Molly Cameron, a Boatswain onboard HMCS Glace Bay, looks through the Pelorous during Operation Projection-Africa, 1 February 2020.

Within the CAF, one would think that pay and performance-based promotion are significant factors making the CAF an attractive employer, as promotion is based upon merit and pay is based upon rank. However, female employment in the CAF has stalled at roughly 15 percent since 20096 and the latest figures have female representation at 15.7 percent.7 This low percentage is not the desired benchmark: the policy of the Chief of Defence Staff demands an increase of female representation in the CAF to 25 percent by 2026.8 Serious effort, outlined in the next sections, has been made to increase the number of women in the military, but the needle of improvement has barely budged in a decade.

The 25 percent policy figure is not a random number, but a desired ratio between men and women for gender to significantly decrease as a concern in the military workplace. Canadian diversity authors Karen Davis and Brian McKee state that, for “….the status of women in armed forces to approach that of a minority population,” meaning that they have a significant say in all aspects of the workplace, “the ratio has to be at least 65/35.”9 Another researcher, Professor Rosabeth Kanter, suggests that the actual critical mass needed for women in the military to have significant influence in the workplace is between 20 and 25 percent.10 Without this mass of representation, “the problem of tokenism arises when the male/female ratio for personnel is below 85/15,”11 and this means that the culture remains one wherein women are not fully accepted, and this can lead to ramifications, such as harassment. As will be discussed later, even 15 percent is not enough to fundamentally change female acceptance in the CAF for the better. This lack of acceptance will be explored in the barriers to women employment in the CAF’s past, but what is important here is the research showing what female representation should be in a military organization to reduce the current problems surrounding token representation. A ‘meeting in the middle’ between the aforementioned researchers to increase female cultural acceptance is likely a significant reason behind the CAF’s requirement for 25 percent female representation, and it is an important step towards equity.

There are two main other reasons for the desired amount of women representation: growing the force, and changing the culture to make the CAF more desirable as an employer for all Canadians. Growing the military force has been a required target of the current Liberal Government, and is complicated by recent years where thousands of personnel more per year left the military than the numbers entered the CAF between 2011 and 2016.12 While retention is also a problem being scrutinized, it is possible that recruiting white males, the typical enrollees in the military, is already working at its peak in the current economic climate. New pools of potential employees may only be found by hiring diverse Canadians, but this has not been easy. Recruiting more women in particular has been challenging because the CAF set “… a goal of increasing the percentage of women by 1 percent every year,” but unfortunately, “had not set specific targets for each occupation,”13 meaning that no specific strategy is being utilized to make the increase happen. Despite the policy, recruiting efforts to date have not focused upon women, and as a result, the CAF is deemed unlikely to meet its goal of 25 percent female employment any time soon.14 Without increasing the number of women dramatically, it is unlikely that the CAF can meet its desired numbers of total military personnel.

DND photo TM01-2018-0022-020 by Cor poral Ken Beliwicz

Captain Jackie Ruis (right), and Captain Chris Ware, CH-147F Chinook helicopter pilots, prepare for flight during Operation Presence-Mali, from Camp Castor, Gao, Mali, 2 August 2018.

One of the tools that has been used recently to help expand the numbers of new female recruits is a recruiting effort that closes some occupations to only female applicants. Employment-equity guidelines are behind the quotas, and in some weeks, the military periodically “closes some of its approximately 100 occupations or trades to any applicants but women.”15 The criticism of this effort is that the military might have created two tiers of recruiting, “one tier for white men and the other for women and visible minorities.”16 However, the rationale behind the program is to generate additional female recruits, since the males are likely to be accepted at some point later in the enrolment process.

Another tool attempted was the Women in Force Program, “to give women an opportunity to learn about military life before they decide to join.”17 This program, like some other attempts, has not made a marked difference in the increase of female representation. “Out of the 120 available spots, 98 people” entered the program, “but as of April 2018, only nine had enrolled or were in the process of enrolling.”18 This tool did not have a return on the investment that allowed the program to continue beyond one effort. These tools were worth trying, but they have not generated a substantial change to recruiting more women in the military.

If recruiting more women does not work, then increasing retention is required. Starting in 2016, a program was initiated to allow “…previously serving female members who released from the CAF in the last five years” to return to the military without the normal complete re-enrolment.19 Another program was the Recruiting and Diversity Task Force, which was created in 2017 and was “dedicated to developing, planning, and executing activities aimed at increasing diversity group levels.”20 However, as of September 2018, the CAF remains 3,500 short of its authorized strength of 71,500 Regular Force personnel to this day.21 Both recruiting and retention efforts have so far failed to make a sizeable increase in female representation in the military.

A key factor of this problem is the clear lack of female representation at the highest levels of military leadership in Canada. Research is clear that a “glass barrier” exists to reaching senior echelons of leadership, both globally and in Canada.22 Our society wants this to change as 66 percent of Canadian respondents to polls say that barriers that stop women aspiring to senior positions in government and politics must be removed.23 Polls in 2019 are equally clear that 35 percent of all Canadians believe that the top gender issue in this country is the lack of equal pay between men and women.24 An important aspect of equal pay is the number of women at the upper echelons of command. As of January 2018, there were 130 generals and admirals in the CAF,25 and only 10 of them were women.26 The math tells us that women make up only 7.7 percent of the general officer and admiral corps, which is half of what their representation should be, based upon 15.7 percent women in the current force. This obvious lack of female command representation is publicly visible, and it will need to change for women to believe that promotion is, in fact, based upon merit, and for the public to visualize the CAF as a fair employer.

To sum up the status of women in the Canadian military at present, their representation is currently at 15.7 percent, with a desired level of 25 percent, in order to grow the force and affect culture change. There has been little-to-no improvement in the levels of female representation over the last decade despite numerous attempts to do so, and the number of female leaders is too low to promote merit as an equally-used promotion tool. This problem needs to be rectified for the CAF to reach its overall goal of Regular Force military personnel, and to improve the culture of the military to one that better represents the diversity of Canada. To understand how we arrived at this state, it is critically important to understand the past.

DND/Library and Archives Canada photo PA-001305

A Canadian VAD ambulance driver serving at the front during the First World War.

Barriers in the Past

Past barriers to female employment in the CAF are fact, but there has been massive change over the last 125 years that has the CAF now positioned as a solid and well-respected employer of Canadian women. Indeed, the United States has looked to Canada as a positive role model, due to the removal of barriers to women in combat positions in 1989, which took the United States until 2013 to do so.27 A quick march through Canadian military history will outline how and when those barriers were removed.

Looking into Canadian history, women were not allowed in the military force at all until 1898, when nurses started supporting the Yukon Field Force.28 Then, women supporting the military as nurses increased to 2,800 strong during the First World War. During the Second World War, some “…50,000 Canadian women eventually enlisted in the three services” and expanded their roles beyond administration and support.29 However, women were not allowed military employment in the aftermath of the Second World War, despite their clear success at helping win the war. Up until 1950, women were not allowed in the military.

DND/Library and Archives Canada photo PA-142415/Lieutenant F. Roy Kemp

Leading WREN June Whiting, Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), disembarking at Liverpool, England, April 1945.

The CAF has come a long way in living memory. In 1951, enrolment was once again opened to women, although their employment was restricted to traditional roles in medicine, communication, logistics, and administration.30 Of interest, attitudes towards women in the military had already started to change, likely due to the reality of women assisting in dangerous roles throughout the Second World War. A good example of this change in attitude occurred in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), when seven women nursing sisters serving at locations with rescue units volunteered to serve as search and rescue specialists, known affectionately as Parabelles.31 They were brought on board due to serious retention issues within the search and rescue community in the early-1950s, when the military focus was upon increasing the fighting force to support the Korean War.

DND photo ZK-273

Three servicewomen marching in front of Parliament in Ottawa during the Second World War.

These nursing sisters did very physically-demanding rescue work in one of the most difficult RCAF occupations, decades before women were allowed to serve in operational roles.32 Nursing Sister Grace Woodman was the first of these women to conduct an operational search and rescue mission, and this is her description of what transpired:

I became entangled in branches about 125 feet above ground and because my harness was a little large for me, I slipped out of it and found myself hanging upside down by one leg! … I then gradually eased myself out of my awkward position. With the aid of a 100 ft length of nylon rope, carried for this purpose, I began the slow descent to the ground. Unfortunately, my gloves had fallen to the ground, and during the slippery descent, I suffered severe rope burns to my hands.33

Woodman bravely completed her mission and rescued her patient. She and the other Parabelles proved outstanding, but the program failed because a barrier imposed at the time was that women were no longer eligible to serve once they were married. The Parabelles all married and left between 1954 and 1957, and the program was discontinued, due to the expense of training replacements.34 The positive part of the program was yet more proof of female capability in physically-demanding military roles.

Despite the lack of progress with the marriage barrier, women increased to more than 5,000 strong by 1955, as enrolment supported the Korean War effort.35 However, and for reasons that are unclear, female enrolment was restricted in 1965 to 1,500 women total in all three services, which limited female representation to 1.5 percent of the CAF’s total strength.36 This apparently-random barrier did not last long; as the Royal Commission on the Status of Women made six recommendations in 1970 specifically aimed at removing barriers, such as the 1,500 women limit, the release of women after the birth of a child, the inability of women to attend Canadian military colleges, and the restrictions on trades and occupations women could enter.37 More significant change occurred after the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed in 1982, and the CAF knew then that they would eventually have to open combat trades and occupations to women.38 In 1989, all military occupations except for submarine employment were opened to women, and in 2001 that last employment opportunity was opened.39 All obvious barriers were removed, 38 years after the rule was overturned that limited any women from being employed by the CAF.

It is important to know that the United States was on a similar track of change. The two militaries have been very closely connected, and attitudes towards women in the military were very similar. The United States created legislation in 1948, restricting female participation to 2 percent of the armed forces, the highest rank they could achieve was Lieutenant-Colonel/Commander, and they could not participate in combat trades.40 In the 1970s, some barriers were removed and female representation in the military increased to 5 percent of overall membership by 1976, 10 percent iby1985, and 15 percent by 2004.41 The United States military is currently manned at 16 percent female representation, a very similar situation to Canada.42 The removal of barriers has occurred mostly in tandem in Canada and the United States, but not all barriers are obvious, and not all of them proved easy to remove.

In 2004, Davis and McKee published research that disputed the ongoing assumption that women could not “meet the physical and mental riggers of combat.”43 Despite the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, despite direction from Government, and despite societal expectations, there were still lingering doubts that women could do the same work as men. This was most evident in the Special Forces. Even though combat trades had been opened to women in 1989, there were still no women in special operations forces as of 2004.44 There were deep internal biases that resisted the fact that “…the distinct differences between men and women are largely irrelevant to meeting the demands of military performance.”45 The subtle barrier was that standards of special operations entry were so high that they practically limited women from participating in elite units, such as Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), and it was an open question “…whether the standards applied reflect the actual requirement.”46 These types of barriers are harder to find, and harder still to eradicate, in a culture dominated by men for so long. It was not helpful that offices within the CAF that were established to help solve these problems found themselves often struggling for funding.47 Proof of female capability and the elimination of legislative barriers was not enough.

In 2006, however, much of the concern regarding women in combat was put to rest with Captain Nichola Goddard in Afghanistan. She was a combat arms professional, “…supported by her team of three men, the well-regarded 26-year-old had just executed high explosive and illumination fire missions in support of Canadian troop manoeuvres against a known enemy — the first time a Canadian soldier had done so since the Korean War more than 50 years earlier.”48 During this mission, tragically, random shrapnel to the back of her head killed her instantly. Stereotypically, it was not so much her bravery and sacrifice that was announced in the House of Commons the next day, but her gender.49 Our society is so fascinated by women in the military, that there is a constant and unyielding glare of a spotlight upon women that prove themselves in uniformed service, and that does not help break down barriers. Focusing upon gender continues to make it a current issue today that may well act as a deterrent to some women from entering this area of employment.

Without question, significant progress with respect to female employment has been made within living memory. Parents of currently-serving personnel can remember times when women were not allowed within the CAF, or severe restrictions were placed upon their ability to serve. By 1989, the legal barriers were mostly removed; and women serving in the military increased from 1.5 percent of the establishment in 1971, to 11.4 percent by 2001. Although there remained subtle barriers that still placed restrictions on their service, research and societal change was easing those barriers as well. The CAF was becoming a large employer of women in all occupations of the military.

Barriers in the Present

Despite all the progress, the CAF is still not the safe and desirable employer of women that it wishes it could be. There are other issues and barriers that will be briefly addressed, but the main ongoing concern is the fear of sexual violence that has been rocking the CAF since 2014. This is not just a Canadian issue, as “…women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed by male violence than because of cancer, malaria, and traffic accidents combined.”50 However, in Canada, this violence is a barrier that insidiously damages the CAF culture, and it endures to this day, despite many measures to make corrections.

DND photo AT2011-0021-12a by Master Corporal Rory Wilson

A female officer who has excelled as a general officer… Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross (pictured here as a major-general) in 2011 after being decorated for her distinguished service with ISAF in Afghanistan.

Beyond the disturbing violence, harassment remains a problem in Canada, even after the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1985, and when a policy to improve behaviour was created in 2001 and updated in 2012, due to the “importance of demonstrating human dignity within professional relationships.”51 Clearly, policy has been insufficient, and both harassment and sexual misconduct in the CAF became a major news story in 2014.52 A subsequent report ordered by the CAF found that roughly four-in-five “…members of the Regular Force saw, heard, or were personally targeted by sexualized behaviour in the military workplace,” and a shocking 27.3 percent of women “…have been victims of sexual assault at least once since joining the CAF.”53 Operation Honour was created by the Chief of Defence Staff in 2015 to combat these problems, but even after four years of intensive efforts, instances of problematic behaviour continue to surface.54

DND photo KW11-2019-0070-17 by Corporal Ryan Moulton

And yet another… Major-General Jennie Carignan officially assumes command of the NATO mission Iraq (NMI) from Major-General Dany Fortin at a Transfer of Authority ceremony held in Baghdad, Iraq, 26 November 2019.

Less shocking, but no less troubling, is the amount of workplace harassment that has gone unreported. An example provided by the Senate of Canada is, “…a situation in which female military members entered meeting rooms and saw, written on whiteboards, highly offensive comments and unacceptable words that were clearly aimed at women.”55 This highlights the continuance of a male-dominated culture within the military that will continue to act as a barrier to more female recruitment as long as this culture remains. However, there are other issues that are hidden by the headlines of inappropriate and illegal behaviour.

The Privy Council Office has identified five key reasons why women are reluctant to join, “relocation, leave without pay, childcare support, the ability to release, and attitudes towards women.”56 The attitude towards women in the military is clearly still an issue, and has been already outlined, but one particular reason bears a little more scrutiny. It can be argued that the other four issues outlined affect men and women both, but those issues are not viewed in the same way by both genders. In particular, childcare support is an issue that women very likely view differently than men. Men are not nearly as likely as women to raise children by themselves, and our society continues to look to women for child-rearing. The military is typically unsympathetic to single parents, and requires them to deploy regardless, with at least one woman in the Royal Canadian Navy alleging that, “…the navy was forcing her to choose between her child and a military career.”57 Until the military can force itself to be more flexible in dealing with these types of problems, issues such as child care will likely continue to act as a barrier to greater female enrolment. Solving these types of problems will require greater sensitivity from male leaders and better understanding of women’s employment preferences.

DND photo HS2011-E024-005 by Cor poral Chris Ringius

Lieutenant (Navy) Teri Mullins, a Maritime Surface and Sub-Surface (MARSS) Officer aboard HMCS Charlottetown, utilizes a sextant to determine the ship’s current location on a map. Although rarely used, MARSS Officers are still required to operate sextants in case of emergencies if their Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems are inoperable.

One statistic that looks like a barrier that may not be so is the percentage of women at the general and admiral officer level. It was noted earlier that the CAF has 15.7 percent women in its ranks but only 7.7 percent at the most senior ranks. However, it takes roughly 30 years to create generals and admirals, so it is relevant that the number of women in the military was on the rise after 1989, and settled at roughly 12 percent in the 1990s.58 Assuming that there were less than 10 percent women in the military circa 1990, when women joined who are now reaching the highest ranks, the discrepancy of the number of women at these ranks now is considerably less than it first appears. These numbers represent a two-to-three percent discrepancy of women in the military at the time, to those occupying the highest ranks presently, but the number of promotions was close to the female representation level as they rose through the ranks. The evidence in the United States military is similar, where “…female general officers and admirals increased from 1.2% … in 1994 to 7.3% in 2011.”59 However, the ratio of men to women at these ranks needs to change, and soon, or the message of merit-based promotion will not stand up to public scrutiny. Importantly, the small number of women making institutional decisions today means that their voices are few enough that long-term internal change is going to be very difficult until women become a much larger presence in the CAF.

We know that this change will be difficult because a decade ago, Canadian sociologist Dr. Lynn Gouliquer wrote a thesis on women in the CAF, and as part of her conclusion was the following statement with respect to the inability of women to make changes internally:

Through … laws and their accompanying ideology, the military renders the likelihood for internal critics nearly nonexistent, and the possibility for change to occur almost nil. As a result, the military context makes it extremely difficult for servicewomen to identify the commonality and negative aspects of their experiences.60

Sadly, little has changed over the last ten years, and the majority of decisions surrounding the increase of female representation and the underlying policies, are, with near-certainly, still made by men. Men are going to have to speak for women if it continues to be a challenge for women to influence positive change because of the restrictions around criticism of the organization.

US Air Force photo/Justin Connaher, 160724-F-LX370-019

Canadian Army Major Chelsea Anne Braybrook, Commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, walks past her Coyote Armoured Vehicle near Fort Greely, Alaska, during Arctic Anvil, a joint multinational exercise, 24 July 2016.

Criticism is warranted. The Senate has made it clear that the CAF needs to move beyond harassment “…prevention and complaints handling in order to change the organization’s culture more deeply”61 and recent reporting shows that the CAF is aware that it needs to increase its efforts if it wants to meet its organizational goal of 25 percent female representation.62 Recruiting must focus upon specific occupations, and more understanding is needed by male leaders at the highest levels for these goals to be met. The present situation in the CAF is that there are still barriers to female employment: they are just no longer legislative. The barriers are subtle, and they maintain a male-dominant culture despite ‘top-down’ direction to change.

DND photo KA2003-D067D by Corporal Doug Farmer

During Operation Athena, Bombardier Marie Robert, serving with an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Troop in Petawawa, Ontario, guides a Sperwer UAV as it is hoisted onto the catapult ramp prior to launch.


Returning to the story from the 1980s, my father told me that regulations and practice have favoured men over women for as long as we have history. The only way that we, as a society, can really achieve fairness is if the pendulum of favouritism swings in favour of women so that eventually it can come to rest in the middle, and young men must let it happen. His wisdom of thirty years ago, arguably ahead of his time, is reflected in current beliefs today. Two-thirds of the global population of recent polling “…believe that women won’t achieve equality in their country unless men take actions to support women’s rights too.”63 In the CAF, where at least 84 percent of the personnel are men, the reality is that men are going to have to make changes to the military culture and welcome women. We must all actively encourage the pendulum of favouritism to swing towards women serving in the military to better reflect the country and the society the military serves.

Remember that the goal of 25 percent women representation is based upon research, and not some random number. A lot of the cultural issues in the military today are based upon the fact that female employment still fits within the ‘token’ category, meaning that they are not wholeheartedly accepted. As the current 15.7 percent has not made a noticeable change to the culture, the goal of 25 percent is absolutely required to create an environment where there is sufficient representation of women to have noticeable influence at the senior levels of leadership. For the CAF to overcome some of its recent image problems, men must make changes to the culture that will eliminate harassment in the workplace and encourage flexible work arrangements for all personnel across the military. The men leading and shaping the CAF must make this a priority because we are already struggling to maintain the size of the force demanded by the Government.

It has been argued that legislative barriers have been cleared away since the late-1950s, and were eliminated altogether in 2001. However, it has also been demonstrated that artificially- high physical barriers to some occupations have been tolerated despite the proof of female capabilities in times of conflict throughout recent history. Through a covert lack of acceptance and overt sexual discrimination, the legislative changes have not been enough to make meaningful change to the CAF culture. Operation Honour is likely to succeed in due course, but there is still much to be done to encourage female representation, and to finally establish a military that looks like Canada. To accomplish this goal, there needs to be significantly-more female generals and admirals. There needs to be much more female representation in the CAF. There needs to be more flexibility included in work arrangements so that women, and men, can better achieve work-life balance. The barriers can be hard to see, but they are still there, and they are negatively affecting the public standing and military performance of the CAF. Removing these remaining barriers to women in the Canadian military will achieve equity in the workplace and their removal is in the best interests of everyone involved.

DND photo IS06-2019-0020-002 by Master Corporal PJ Letourneau

Petty Officer 2nd Class Stewart carries the Eagle Staff, 4 June 2019, during the unveiling of a monument dedicated to the Canadians who fought and died during the Second World War, at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, Chambois, France.


  1. N. R. Abramson and R. T. Moran, Managing Cultural Differences: Global Leadership for the 21st Century, 10th Edition (Routledge, New York: 2018), p. 149.
  2. Ibid., p. 154.
  3. David Pugliese, “Military: Shorter Skirts, Disaster Relief and Highlighting Medals as ‘Bling’ Might Bring More Women In,” in Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 10 February 2020 from https://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/shorter-skirts-disaster-relief-and-highlighting-medals-as-bling-might-bring-more-women-into-the-military.
  4. Murray Brewster, “Canada Nearly Lost 2018 UN Mission Because it Didn’t Have Enough Women in Uniform,” CBC News. Retrieved 19 February 2020 from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-un-united-nations-sudan-women-soldiers-1.5467722.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Grazia Scoppio, “Lessons Learned on Diversity Across Military Organizations,” in Managing Diversity in the Military: The Value of Inclusion in a Culture of Uniformity (Rutledge, Milton Park, Canada: 2012), p. 113.
  7. National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, “Women in the Canadian Armed Forces,” Government of Canada. Retrieved 2 October 2019 from http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/news/article.page?doc=women-in-the-canadian-armed-forces/izkjqzeu.
  8. H. D. Arcouette, “Recruiting Women in the CAF: The Challenges of a 25 Percent Representation.” Canadian Forces College, 2018-2019. Last retrieved 26 January 2020 from https://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/259/290/308/192/arcouette.pdf, p. 1.
  9. Karen Davis and Brian Mckee, “Women in the Military: Facing the Warrior Framework,” in Challenge and Change in the Military: Gender and Diversity Issues (17 Wing Publishing Office for the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, Winnipeg, Manitoba: 2004), p. 36.
  10. Ibid., p. 39.
  11. Ibid., p. 36.
  12. Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Report 5Canadian Armed Forces Recruitment and RetentionNational Defence, 2016. Last retrieved 8 February 2020 from https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_201611_05_e_41834.html, p. 5.110.
  13. Ibid., p. 5.33.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Christie Blatchford, “The Canadian Forces Jobs Where Only Women Need Apply,” in The National Post. Last retrieved 19 April 2020 from https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/the-canadian-forces-jobs-where-only-women-need-apply.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Department of National Defence, “The Women in Force Program, a new Canadian Armed Forces initiative for women,” 31 May 2017. Last retrieved 26 January 2020 from https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/news/2017/05/
  18. Acrouette, “Recruiting Women …,” p. 4.
  19. Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Report 5, p. 5.34.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Government of Canada, “Mandate of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces,” last modified 24 September 2018, https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/corporate/mandate.html.
  22. Abramson and Moran, Managing Cultural Differences …, p. 165.
  23. International Women’s Day, “Resources, International Women’s Day Study,” 2019. Last retrieved 3 February 2020 from https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/internationalwomensday/resources/IWD2019-ResearchStudy-global.pdf.
  24. Ibid.
  25. David Pugliese, “A 60 per cent increase in Canada’s generals - Vance says more to come,” in Ottawa Citizen, 5 May 2018. Last retrieved 7 February 2020 from https://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/a-60-per-cent-increase-in-canadas-generals-vance-says-more-to-come.
  26. CTV News, “Meet Brigadier-General Jennie Carignan, One of the Highest-ranking Women in the CAF,” 3 January 2019. Last retrieved 7 February 2020 from https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/meet-brigadier-general-jennie-carignan-one-of-the-highest-ranking-women-in-the-caf-1.4239064.
  27. Joseph Bongiovi, “Fighting for Equal Opportunity: Women’s’ Changing Roles in the U.S. Military,” in Understanding and Managing Diversity (6th Edition), (Pearson Education Inc., New Jersey: 2015), p. 235.
  28. National Defence, “Women in the Canadian …”
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. James Pierotti, Becoming a No-Fail Mission: The Origins of Search and Rescue in Canada (Lulu Publishing: 2018), p. 155.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid., p. 156.
  34. Ibid.
  35. National Defence, “Women in the Canadian …”
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Canadian Armed Forces, “Women in the CAF,” Government of Canada, 2 October 2019. Last retrieved 7 February 2020 from https://forces.ca/en/women-in-the-caf/.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Bongiovi “Fighting for Equal Opportunity …,” p. 229.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Mary Dever, “With Historic Number of Women in Uniform, the Vet Community Is About to Change,” Military.com, 11 March 2019. Last retrieved 1 June 2020 from https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/03/11/historic-number-women-uniform-vet-community-about-change.html.
  43. Davis and Mckee, “Women in the Military …,” p. 9.
  44. Ibid., p. 31.
  45. Ibid., p. 9.
  46. Ibid., p. 54.
  47. Scoppio, “Lessons Learned …,” p. 114.
  48. Valerie Fortney, “Fortney: A Decade After Capt. Nichola Goddard’s Death, Her Family Continues Her Legacy,” in Calgary Herald, 16 May 2016. Last retrieved 17 February 2020 from https://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/fortney-a-decade-after-capt-nichola-goddards-death-her-family-continues-her-legacy.
  49. Ibid.
  50. Abramson and Moran, Managing Cultural Differences …, p. 150.
  51. Government of Canada, “Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution,” 2012. Last retrieved 26 January 2020 from https://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=26041, p. 3.1.
  52. Senate Canada, Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence: Sexual Harassment and Violence in the Canadian Armed Forces, May 2019. Last retrieved 7 February 2020 from https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/SECD/Reports/
    , p. 10.
  53. Ibid.
  54. Ibid., p. 17.
  55. Ibid., p. 13.
  56. Acrouette, “Recruiting Women …,” p. 4.
  57. Pugliese, “Military: Shorter Skirts …”
  58. Gouliquer, Lynn, “Soldiering in the Canadian Forces: How and Why Gender Counts!” McGill University, Montreal, 2011. Last retrieved 17 February 2020 from https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/thesescanada/vol2/QMM/TC-QMM-96779.pdf, p. 12.
  59. Bongiovi, “Fighting for Equal Opportunity …,” p. 230.
  60. Gouliquer, “Soldiering in the Canadian …,” p. 275.
  61. Senate Canada, Report of the …,” p. 22.
  62. Pugliese, “Military: Shorter Skirts …”
  63. International Women’s Day, “Resources …”