The Ministry of Defence has outlined plans to overhaul its culture, stamp out bullying and harassment, and ensure that women who join the armed forces can ‘flourish’.
Earlier this year, a report from the Women in the Armed Forces sub-committee claimed that six out of 10 women who had experienced abuse while in the military did not complain because they feared it would have a negative impact on their career.
It was also critical of the MoD’s processes for handling allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination, and included accounts of sexual abuse and rape.
In its response published today (2 December), the MoD says that the MPs’ report had “made clear that on too many occasions Defence has failed to provide women with the experience they deserve”.
“Our servicewomen needed to tell their courageous testimonies, we needed to hear them, and we will ensure that we continue to hear their voices,” it says.
Culture in the military
It has set a “stretching and challenging” ambition of ensuring that 30% of its intake by 2030 are women, more than double the current level.
“Outreach is important, and we need to start this at a younger age, in more communities,” it adds.
It wants its future recruitment campaigns to be “female focused”; highlight the roles available outside of “traditional” combat roles (including STEM professions); and challenge misconceptions about the Armed Forces.
It also wants to “recognise the importance of valuing and rewarding quality inclusive leadership as a crucial driver for cultural change”.
All senior officers will be assessed against a new leadership objective from this year – “Role model through visible leadership, positive behaviours including mission command, self-awareness and an appropriate work-life balance” – and four new leadership characteristics will be rolled out from February 2022.
Other measures outlined by the MoD include:
- undertaking a six-month sprint to accelerate existing work to deliver a range of new women’s health policies
- undertaking a review of policy to strengthen levers available to dismiss or discharge those who are found to have committed sexual offences or unacceptable sexual behaviour
- developing a new sexual exploitation and abuse policy
- benchmarking organisational culture with other Armed Forces, government departments and private organisations.
The report says: “Meaningful and enduring change is our aim and it is starting to happen, and whilst there
has been much improvement in recent years there remains a broad range of challenges, issues and unacceptable behaviour that must be addressed. Defence is committed to preventing unacceptable behaviours from occurring and we have zero-tolerance for such behaviour.
There is much more work to do, but it is clear that improving the experiences of women in the Armed Forces is becoming a priority for the Ministry of Defence” – Sarah Atherton, committee chair
“We know that our Armed Forces are an environment where our women continue to thrive, and it is encouraging that the report found that nearly 90% of respondents would recommend the Forces to other women. Defence is committed to making the step changes required to create an inclusive environment for all women.”
Sarah Atherton MP, chair of the women in armed forces sub-committee, said: “There is much more work to do, but it is clear that improving the experiences of women in the Armed Forces is becoming a priority for the Ministry of Defence.
“The fact that a servicewoman can now make a sexual complaint safe in the knowledge that her direct chain of command won’t be handling it is a huge step forward.
“There is also set to be a more robust process for handling complaints of bullying, harassment and discrimination – although questions remain over what this means in practice.
“It is clear that the military is a male-dominated institution and so I am pleased that the government has set itself ambitious targets, such as doubling the proportion of female recruits, and has accelerated workstreams on women’s health, uniform and equipment. This ambition is welcome: let’s make sure these targets are met, not missed.”