Kate ran the New Zealand Defence Force’s “Wāhine Toa” programme from 2020. It’s designed to enhance the participation of women in the services, and make the male-dominated armed forces more aware of the issues women in uniform face, initiating changes to attract more women to enlist and, importantly, stay on, rising up through the ranks. Among the programme’s achievements chalked up to make women feel more welcome and valued in the military include the NZDF adopting the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles – the first military in the world to do that.
“I’m very pleased with all that’s been achieved with Wāhine Toa, especially in terms of creating employee networks,” Kate says. “Networks are important because they help people feel connected and create a better sense of belonging. That’s particularly important when you look at gender across organisations like the NZDF and the NZ Police. In the NZDF’s civilian workforce there’s a greater proportion of women than in the military workforce, but they are often in lower paid positions, and women in minority groups are still very unrepresented.”
In a 2019 diversity and inclusion report, just under a fifth (18%) of Regular Force military members were female, and almost a quarter (24%) across the total NZDF workforce (Regular Force plus civilian staff) were female. Kate says that because there aren’t that many women in the military workforce (in uniform) they just aren’t visible, and that gets worse higher up the command chain.
“Only 13% of senior positions are filled by women. And if you look for Māori and Pasifika, there just aren’t the numbers. I’d love for women to join the military, to look up the ranks and think, ‘They’re just like me, so I can do that’. I want them to know there are women they can talk to all the way up the command chain, and that their experiences as women are normal and shared, so they feel included not excluded.”
For anyone saying, “What about the men?”, there’s also programme for men – “Tāne Toa”. “We can’t assume that because there are lots of men in the NZDF, they have everything they need. And part of that work is supporting men to be gender allies. Women’s rights are human rights, and research shows that where you improve conditions for women, you improve it for all marginalised groups. Nine out of ten times you’ll also improve things for men.”