I am not writing this in response to recently reported misconduct allegations with senior leaders in the Canadian Armed Forces. I am writing this because we must do better—better for the defence industry, better for the CAF, and better for Canada and Canadians.
Over 10 years ago, as a deliverable on a graduate degree program, I wrote a paper on diversity in the CAF and started the paper with the following quote, taken from the Chief of Defence Staff’s Guidance to Commanding Officers: “Our men and women are the cornerstones of operational effectiveness. Sophisticated weapon systems, armoured vehicles, aircraft and ships are of little value without a dedicated team of professional sailors, soldiers and air persons. Our people must know they will be treated fairly and with dignity and respect throughout their careers. They have a right to expect from their leadership an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment in an organisation whose employment practices are fair and equitable.” This remains true for the CAF today and we in the defence industry, as the provider of the sophisticated weapon systems, armoured vehicles, aircraft, and ships must do the same.
Diversity, inclusion, equity
Diversity is a journey that started over 100 years ago with the fight for women’s rights and then expanded to cover the four designated groups: women, persons with disabilities, Aboriginals and members of visible minorities covered by Canada’s Employment Equity Act. The discussion now includes the rights of all members of Canadian society regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical and/or cognitive disability, family status, creed, place of origin, religion and language (Diversity). It includes the act of recognizing, welcoming, and making space for diversity, and recognizes the value of a diverse workforce that leverages differences in identities, abilities, backgrounds, cultures, skills, experiences, and perspectives (Inclusion). Finally, the discussion must address the fair treatment for individuals and groups by removing barriers to success, to include the physical, social, and systemic, that disadvantage some groups over others (Equity).
Committing to diversity and inclusion, beyond adherence to government policy, is essential for the defence industry for a number of reasons including ensuring that our industry can attract the talent required to deliver on the Government’s Strong, Secure, Engaged (SSE) equipment requirements, driving innovation so our soldiers, sailors, and air men and women are provided with the best Canadian industry can deliver and to be a responsible member of the Canadian Defence Team.
From a policy and legal perspective, gender equality is enshrined in our Charter of Rights and gender equality means women, men, and gender diverse people can participate fully throughout the defence team to include the defence industry. Defence companies are already required to present their employment equity plans as a mandatory part of most defence bids and more recently, diversity and inclusion plans form part of the technical rated evaluation.
Beyond policy needs, the current white male-dominated baby-boomer generation are continuing to retire and the Generation X are starting to consider retirement, just as the Canadian defence procurement cycle is anticipating significant growth in response to the ambitious equipment requirements of SSE. Using a favourite term of the defence community, this creates the ‘perfect storm’ which will be a major challenge to the defence industry without growth.
To succeed, we must attract our nation’s brightest, drawing from across all demographics. Future members of our industry, throughout all departments, divisions and skill categories, will need to see themselves in our ranks, feel secure for being themselves and be equitably recognized and rewarded for their contributions to the industry and therefore Canada, if they are to first join and then remain in our ranks. Fortunately, the Canadian Government has created Gender Based Analysis (GBA+), an analytical process used to assess how diverse groups of women, men, and gender diverse people may experience policies, programs, and initiatives. This program provides a means to educate our workforce on the principles of diversity and gender, and forms an essential component in the system engineering of our products and services.
Better decision making through diversity
In addition to attracting and retaining our workforce, diversity and inclusion will help drive innovation throughout our industry. The transition to an agile system and software development has resulted in greater innovation, efficiency and effectiveness of the equipment solutions developed throughout the defence industry. Agile has at its heart, and as presented in the Agile Manifesto, the belief that individuals and interactions trump processes and tools.
Add this to the fact that gender and ethnic diverse companies outperform others in their industries. There should be no surprise that people with different backgrounds have different ideas and since everyone on the team has a voice in agile development processes, the output will be innovative solutions that better meet the end user's needs. Also, diversity is a key ingredient for better decision-making among teams; homogenous groups may be susceptible to groupthink, while diverse teams can leverage a greater variety of perspectives and are likely to consider information more thoroughly and accurately. Further, mixed-gender teams can better manage group conflict compared to homogenous teams and can better maximize creativity among team members. Greater innovation is good for our military, good for our people, and good for our industry.
Finally, many in our industry talk of partnerships with the military, and being an integral part of the defence team, not just an equipment or service provider but working side by side developing solutions, a key principle in agile development, and then, where appropriate, assisting in the operations and maintenance of those systems. For this to work, the defence industry must operate under the same standards and expectations as the uniformed members of the Defence Team. Not only must our people see themselves in our organization, our customer/partner must also see their values reflected if we are to build the bonds and trust necessary to operate together meeting Canada’s security needs.
Establishing diversity and inclusion as a strategic priority is essential to the future of the defence industry. Just as our customer is committed to creating a workforce that is reflective of Canadians, one that is fair, respectful, inclusive, and supportive of diversity, so must the defence industry. The discussion must continue.
This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue of the Canadian Defence Review.