In yesterday’s blog, I took the opportunity to cover Canada’s difficulties in reaching out to its multicultural population. However, it is worth noting that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)’s challenges do not end there- it also struggles to recruit and retain women- particularly in the Royal Canadian Air Force, where women only make up 8.9% of its members!

Unfortunately, this happens due to severe issues like sexual misconduct and barriers to employment, which we cover in our second report Reinvesting in the Canadian Armed Forces: A Plan for the Future.

This is unacceptable, and means that we are losing valuable talent in the Canadian Armed Forces. Over the next two days, I will highlight the accomplishments of women in the different branches of the CAF to truly illustrate what we could gain through increased representation. Today’s entry will focus on women in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

The low representation of women in the RCAF is particularly shocking given that it was the first military branch to allow women to serve outside of nursing roles. In 1941, the RCAF established the Women’s Division, which was initially only meant for administrative roles, but was expanded to include vital support roles like parachute-rigging, laboratory work and even engineering and mechanical work!

This legacy continues today as women continue to contribute to the RCAF across its many roles. Today, they serve as pilots, engineers, and the various forms of support staff that provide our CAF with relevant, responsive and effective airpower.

In fact, the RCAF has produced several incredible success stories and firsts for women in the CAF! In 2015, Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon, a former helicopter pilot, assumed command of Joint Task Force Iraq. Later that year, Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross became the first woman in CAF history to assume that rank.

More recently, Major-General Tammy Harris took on the role of deputy-commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force in January. With that said, this is far from her only accomplishment; Major-General Harris is also the first woman to command a wing of the RCAF, the first woman to command a CAF base and controlled Canada’s biggest training base in Borden.

Given the success these women have enjoyed, it is my hope that the RCAF will adopt major changes to help include more women in its ranks. While the RCAF has been where many firsts have taken place, women still only represent 8.9% of its members. These kinds of opportunities should be extended to more women, meaning that the RCAF needs to have better representation!

Such changes will require a will for change. Our study showed that tackling the root causes of underrepresentation, such as sexual misconduct and systemic barriers, will not be easy. In fact, it will require a significant cultural change within the RCAF to make it into a safe workplace for women.

However, there are signs of change. With the implementation of Operation Honour, sexual misconduct is slowly but surely declining in the RCAF. Further, representation for women is now a priority at the highest levels. To quote Major-General Harris: “I am honoured that I am the first woman, but I think in 2012, I’d hope it’s becoming more of the rule than the exception.”

I genuinely look forward to seeing this change, and will continue to blog on it in the days to come. Please check in for my next entry, as this blog shifts its focus to examine this issue with particular focus on the Canadian Army.