Today I am honoured to participate, as the Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, on International Women’s Day, the theme of which is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”.
Over the past month, we’ve had cause to reflect on our values, our culture, and our workplace. We have had, and will continue to have, necessary conversations about the changes that we need to make.
But today is a day to celebrate women’s achievements. It is a day to honour their contributions. It is a day to lift women up. To inspire. To share joy. To build community.
Today, we acknowledge those who challenged and changed perceptions about what women’s roles in the military should be. Women like Chief Warrant Officer Linda Smith, or Brigadier General Sheila Hellstrom - who sadly passed away last December.
And we look towards a future where women’s leadership across National Defence is the norm.
During this pandemic, we have asked our members to fight against COVID-19 at home and abroad.
In our medical occupations, women make up almost half of our workforce, and they have been on the front lines each and every day. They’ve worked tirelessly to save lives.
They were part of the teams who helped Canadians return from China and Japan at the onset of the Pandemic.
And today, as Rangers, women contribute to our efforts to support and safeguard Northern and Indigenous communities across the country.
As challenging as COVID-19 has been for all of us, we remain mission focused. This is evident in our ongoing operations overseas, many of which are led by and composed of women proudly serving their country. Missions like:
Training Ukrainian Security Forces,
Contributing to peace support operations in Mali, Kosovo, and Cyprus,
and disrupting drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific.
Women in uniform have represented Canada on the world stage, women like Commodore Josee Kurtz and Major General Jennie Carignan, who recently commanded multinational forces overseas.
Each leader paves the way for the next.
Soon, we will see a transfer of command in Operation UNIFIER, from LCol Sarah Heer to LCol Melanie Lake.
On missions around the world, women continue to lead from the front, like LCol Jaime Phillips our Task Force Commander in Bamako, Mali.
We have come a long way from the first years of women’s full integration into the forces. But there is so much more work to be done to have a truly inclusive force.
Together, guided by the Defence Women’s Advisory Organization, defence researchers, and the lived experiences of our members, we will continue to push forward.
We need to identify and then dismantle the barriers that prevent women’s meaningful participation in the CAF – across all environments, occupations, and ranks.
That means changing outdated policies and outdated mindsets.
We need to be flexible and offer people career paths that work for them using a personalized approach based on an individual’s circumstances.
And we need to encourage and support women as they develop in their careers.
You know as I do that those in leadership positions, of which most are held by men, have a responsibility to mentor, sponsor and advocate for women who are coming up through the ranks. We have an active role to play in creating a CAF culture that is equitable and inclusive for women.
Every day around the world, Canadian women in uniform are serving with duty, honour, integrity, and courage. They are protecting Canadians, defending our country, and contributing to international security and stability. At every level, women in our military demonstrate the very best Canada has to offer.
So today, while celebrating the exceptional women of the Canadian Armed Forces, my message to women in the CAF is to keep fighting. Keep bringing your authentic selves to work. Keep striving for excellence. Keep serving your country at home and abroad.
To everyone watching, thank you for participating in today’s International Women’s Day celebration. I look forward to continued collaboration with all of you to make the CAF a stronger, more inclusive, and more effective organization.