It’s tempting to consider whether David Morrison, who was recently named Australian of the Year, would have been honoured for his stand on equality and diversity if he had worked in, say, retail or manufacturing. That’s not to belittle his achievement, far from it. It’s to underline the significance of a figure, from the hierarchical, male-dominated military – a former army chief no less – taking a step back to view his profession with a different lens. In doing so, it altered Morrison’s whole perception and motivated him to campaign for change within.
Morrison is clearly an exceptional man who isn’t afraid to challenge conventions. In 2013 when it became public that hundreds of sexually explicit emails were in circulation within the ranks, the Lieutenant General ordered soldiers to “get out” of the military if they could not respect women as equals. His realisation that the way the army was presenting itself was out of touch with the modern world and alienating women and minorities led to him introducing quotas to increase the number of female recruits, which stood at a mere 9 per cent.
It was not without its detractors, who believed that Morrison was trying to undermine the efficiency of the army. But when Morrison retired from the army in 2015 after 36 years, his oft-repeated argument that “a more diverse workforce is a more capable workforce” had won through. The number of female army recruits at the Australian Defence Force Academy had risen to 25 per cent. Morrison also instigated more flexible career paths that enabled women and men to take time out of work and return with their career still on track. It has benefitted not just women taking maternity leave but men who might want to do something else for a while.
Receiving his award, Morrison made the point that too many Australians were being denied the opportunity to reach their full potential in the military. “It happens because of their gender, because of the god they believe in, because of their racial heritage, because they’re not able-bodied, because of their sexual orientation, and we as a nation … should be able to give them the chance to reach their potential.”
In a parallel development on the other side of the world, in another highly-regulated working environment, MI5 has just been named as Britain’s most gay-friendly employer by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans charity Stonewall. The spooks ranked top out of 100 employers as rated by staff for their culture, diversity and inclusion. Andrew Parker, Director-General, MI5, says, “Diversity is vital for MI5, not just because it’s right that we represent the communities we serve, but because we rely on the skills of the most talented people whoever they are, and wherever they may be.”
Not to be outdone, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is also an employer of choice, having walked off (rather hurriedly into the night) at the 2015 AHRI awards with the Rob Goffee Award for Leadership Development. ASIO’s learning and development program has really struck a chord with participants who appreciate the robust evaluation activities, HR data, senior leader interviews and case study analysis that have gone a long way to impacting on staff performance, processes and culture.
So what inferences can be drawn from this trend? In an increasingly dangerous world, where a career in the military and secret services – if it’s not a desk-based job – comes with inherent risks, offering an accepting and caring work culture is important for future recruitment.