Military women

What is it like to be a woman in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF)? Are women treated fairly? Do women get promoted as often as men? Is it safe? The answers to these questions are important if the Defence Force wants to attract and keep the best people in a competitive job market.

Having women in the Defence Force is a good thing. Female soldiers can be highly valuable in some cultural contexts where the NZDF works as it may not be appropriate for men to have direct contact with women outside their family. Women bring different perspectives and knowledge to leadership positions that lead to better decision-making.

Once they are recruited, it is also good to keep women (and men) in the Defence Force as, in the long run, it saves money on recruitment and training.

How the review was done

Several sources of information were used for Maximising Opportunities for Military Women in the New Zealand Defence Force including:

  • international literature including reviews of strategies to achieve gender equity
  • analysis of the NZDF's policies and procedures
  • information from the NZDF administration data and organisational surveys
  • interviews with current and former NZDF personnel across a range of ranks, services and roles.

It found that in the last 15 years there has been much progress in gender equity in the NZDF.

A more detailed methodology is in the report.

Findings and recommendations

The report made four recommendations:

  1. Recruit the best personnel, by focusing on a broader potential candidate pool.

    New Zealand has a higher proportion of women in the regular forces than other comparable countries BUT that proportion is the same as it was 10 years ago (around 15%). The NZDF needs to attract more female applicants through targeted recruitment and, once they apply, to ensure the process is not biased.

  2. Expand systems to increase women's retention.

    Although women and men are promoted at the same rates as each other, women stay in the Defence Force for shorter periods than men. This means there are few women in the organisation who can progress to very senior positions.

    Greater flexibility and support such as more notice of postings or deployments, better childcare support and opportunities for part-time work could reduce the number of women who leave. For those that do leave though, the NZDF has made returning to the organisation (re-enlistment) easier, which has helped.

  3. Improve pathways for women to reach senior leadership roles. 

    So far, women have not been appointed to the highest levels of the Defence Force. For example, the Chief of Defence Force generally has combat or operational experience but women make up only 6% of this pool of people.

    Women therefore, need to be recruited to the full range of Defence Force occupations to increase diversity. At higher ranks, other work can be done such as training senior leaders in how to avoid unconscious bias.

  4. Further reduce discrimination, harassment and bullying, particularly in recruit training.

    Harrassment of women has almost halved (19% to 10.4%), but women are twice as likely to report bullying than men (13.4% vs 6.6%). Overall, there are good systems for reporting bullying, harassment and discrimination, but the NZDF could better track incidents to identify patterns.

    For recruit training, only the Army systematically collects data specifically about bullying, harassment and discrimination. In these surveys, women are two to three times more likely than men to report experiencing difficulties with a staff member. It is recommended that the recruit training period is reviewed, with a focus on reducing discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Increase in new female recruits by 50%

  • Maximising opportunities for military women in the NZDF
    4.6 MB
    13 Feb 2014