Want to boost military recruits? Diversity, cultural change are key: officials

Click to play video: 'Military struggles to recruit more women amid misconduct crisis'
Military struggles to recruit more women amid misconduct crisis
The Canadian Armed Forces appears to be struggling retaining and recruiting people. And amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, the military also wants to recruit more women. – Oct 25, 2021

The Canadian Forces must fix its sexual misconduct crisis and create a more diverse work environment if it wants to boost recruitment and meet the growing demands of a more dangerous world.

Senior leaders in charge of the military’s cultural change initiatives updated journalists Wednesday on the work underway to confront the longstanding problems that were identified in 2015 as creating a “toxic” and “hostile” workplace for women and LGBTQ2 members.

Those initiatives launched after multiple exclusive reports by Global News last year exposing allegations of sexual misconduct against the military’s most senior leaders sparked a national reckoning.

“I would like to emphasize that culture change is a must-have rather than a nice-to-have, not only for our current but our future defence team members,” said Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan, who was named almost exactly one year ago to the newly created post of chief of professional conduct and culture.

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She said people considering a military career look for something that is “honourable and bigger than themselves,” but that also lets them be themselves openly: whether that means dyeing their hair, taking leave to support family members in need, or being able to observe non-Christian holidays.

Seventy-one per cent of military members are white men compared with 39 per cent in the civilian workforce, added Maj.-Gen. Lise Bourgon.

“We can and we must do better to establish a more inclusive culture where we don’t have to change to fit in,” said Bourgon, deputy commander of Military Personnel Command.

“Diversity enhances readiness and in turn, our operational effectiveness.”

Recruitment remains a major challenge for the Canadian Forces, even as military members are being called upon to meet ever-increasing demands for their aid and action.

The increased frequency of natural disasters due to climate change and a shifting geopolitical security environment, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are prompting political leaders to weigh increasing the defence budget towards the two-per-cent-of-GDP goal in place for NATO members.

Canada has long lagged that target.

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Click to play video: 'Calls intensify for direct NATO intervention to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine'
Calls intensify for direct NATO intervention to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Even with spending increases announced in 2017 that boost the budget by 70 per cent over a decade, Canada still spends just 1.39 per cent of its GDP on defence as the military struggles to meet recruitment targets — particularly with women, LGBTQ2 Canadians and those from diverse communities.

Last year, the military ombudsman Gregory Lick warned the military sexual misconduct crisis posed a “national security risk” due, in part, to the “negative impacts on recruitment and retention.”

Carignan has previously said that past initiatives attempting to tackle sexual misconduct failed to get to “the heart of the problem,” which is what she says the military is doing now.

What changes is the military planned next?

Officials said they did not have data yet on how many total sexual misconduct cases have been handed over from military police to civilian law enforcement — a major change announced in the fall.

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That data is expected within the coming months, though, at the next update, Bourgon said.

In the near term, a number of changes are going to be coming into effect.

Military members will no longer have gender-specific rules on their appearance for things like hair length, style and colour, Bourgon said.

“We will be giving them options regarding their appearance,” she said.

“Professional skills and competence are not defined by the length or colour of your hair.”

A strategy for retaining staff is also nearly complete and in addition to recruitment policies being now used that specifically target women and Indigenous Canadians, Bourgon said officials are prioritizing applications from diverse recruits amid a processing delay caused by COVID-19.

As well, promised changes to how the military selects and trains leaders will be coming into effect this year, a change she said “forces more objective methods with which to assess potential.”

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The changes going forward will target four key areas, based on feedback gathered from nearly 9,000 participants in 283 sessions that sought input on the core problem areas in the military.

That feedback put the spotlight on the “warrior identity” as well as the military’s traditional approach to teamwork, leadership and goals of service to mission as factors Carignan described as both the “greatest weakness” and also the military’s “greatest strength,” depending on how they are allowed to manifest.

“We recognize we have a dual nature,” she said. “While we might not have done a good job in the past, today we are fully committed to creating a workplace that is welcoming, safe, inclusive and respective.”

Click to play video: 'Military ombudsman says sexual misconduct in Canadian Armed Forces threatens national security'
Military ombudsman says sexual misconduct in Canadian Armed Forces threatens national security

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