OTTAWA — Canada’s top general has set out to transform the military with a new effort to boost the number of women in the ranks.
Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, revealed on Friday that he has given a directive to do what good intentions have so far failed to accomplish — get more women into the Canadian Armed Forces.
Vance said he has tasked Lt.-Gen. Christine Whitecross, the chief of military personnel, to boost the number of women in uniform by 1 per cent a year over the coming decade.
That would allow the military to meet its long-standing goal of having women make up 25 per cent of its members.
“I have asked Gen. Whitecross to increase the percentage, through retention and recruiting, . . . of women in the armed forces by 1 per cent a year over the next 10 years,” Vance told a defence conference on Friday.
“If we don’t make it a task, if I don’t give an order, it’s not going to get done. We can’t just hope that it happens. We’re going to try hard to meet our diversity targets the same way.”
Officials said later that Vance had given the directive on Wednesday during a meeting with Whitecross.
The initiative comes as the military is working to transform its culture in the wake of a damning report last year by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps that revealed a “sexualized culture” within the military that she found was conducive to sexual harassment and misconduct.
And the report found military leaders too often condoned the inappropriate conduct.
Among her 10 recommendations, Deschamps said that better integration of women, including positions of senior leadership, was needed to reform the institution.
She said there was an “undeniable” link between disrespectful and demeaning workplace attitudes toward women and the poor integration of women in the organization and their lack of representation in the senior ranks.
“Increasing the representation of women in the (Canadian Armed Forces), including in the highest positions of senior leadership, is therefore key to changing the culture of the organization,” Deschamps wrote.
She pointed to the Australian military, where women make up 18.2 per cent of all officers, as an example for Canada.
Military expert Christian Leuprecht said adding more women is vital to transforming the armed forces culture.
“If you want to change the culture with regards to women, you’ve got to get more women into the organization. You’ve got to make more of an effort,” said Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University.
While he said Canada does better than many of its allies with women in uniform, Leuprecht said it appears that Vance’s announcement is an attempt to press recruiters to do even better.
“He’s not just putting the organization on notice. He is also trying to signal publicly, ‘Look, we realize we have a challenge here,’ ” he said in an interview Friday.
“Here’s an opportunity for the largest employer in the country to come out and say, ‘We’re going to change things and we’re going to lead by example.’ ”
But meeting the goal could be a challenge. There are some 15,000 women in uniform, making up 15 per cent of the regular and reserve forces.
In all, the defence department has about 66,000 full-time soldiers, short of its approved staffing level of 68,000, and about 21,000 reservists, well below its target of 27,000.
In the past, many women who joined the military were familiar with the organization, thanks either to family connections or past involvement with cadets, Leuprecht said. As the military now looks to recruit more women, it will have to broaden its appeal, he said.
Leuprecht also said that the armed forces must work to have women better represented in trades across the organization, rather than concentrated in areas such as logistics and medicine.
Vance made clear Friday that his efforts to diversify the ranks won’t stop with boosting the number of women.
“I’m also wanting to increase all manner of diversity in the armed forces to better reflect the Canadian public. It’s important. We are of the public,” Vance said.
Visible minorities currently make up 6.5 per cent of the armed forces, short of the goal of 11.8 per cent. Aboriginal peoples represent 2.5 per cent of those in uniform, shy of the goal of 3.4 per cent.