Research and Organizational Change: Women in the Canadian Forces

By Davis, Karen D. | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Research and Organizational Change: Women in the Canadian Forces


Davis, Karen D., Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


In recent decades, social science research has provided valuable input to Canadian Forces (CF) decisions to expand the roles of women in the military as well as the processes developed to support the increasing participation of women. In addition, social science research has continuously challenged stereotypical perceptions of the competencies and abilities of women, and the potential impact of women on cohesion, morale, trust, teamwork, etc.--perceptions that have created considerable resistance to the introduction of women into once all-male domains. This paper identifies the relationship between social and legal processes in Canada, social science research conducted by the organization, and subsequent change to policies and programs impacting the participation of women in the CF. Beginning with the proclamation of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1978, the paper moves through four periods linking 'milestone' research with CF response to Canadian socio-legal processes. Suggesting that research in support of further integration of women in the CF has assumed a low priority since the 1999 10-year Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision on the integration of women, the discussion concludes with suggestions for further research to ensure that women become full participants in the CF.

Today, close to 8,000 women are serving in the Regular Component of the Canadian Forces (CF), and an additional 10,000 serve in the Reserves on full and part time commitments. Overall representation is 12.5 percent and 23.8 percent in the Regular and Reserve Forces, respectively. Participation ranges from approximately 75 percent in the nursing occupation to less than one per cent in some of the operational occupations such as the land combat arms (data provided by the Directorate of Military Gender Integration and Employment Equity, Department of National Defence (DND)). On the one hand, the increased representation and the expanded range of employment of women in the military in Canada can be attributed to the nation's need for 'womanpower' to replace a diminishing pool of traditional recruits - young white males. On the other hand, various legal and political struggles have resulted in increased equal employment opportunities for women. In particular, this includes: the 1969 Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, the proclamation of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1978, the 1989 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling on gender integration in the CF (Davis, 1996), and most recently the Employment Equity Act (1995).

Prior to 1969 and the recommendations resulting from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, Canadian military policy regarding women's participation reflected wartime needs for 'womanpower' to supplement shortages of manpower. For example, until July 1968 the maximum number of women in the Army, Navy and Air Force combined was set at a fixed ceiling of 1,500. Following the Royal Commission, both the above and other restrictions impacting the participation of women were removed. In 1971, enrolment criteria expanded to include married women, women could continue to serve following the birth of a child, women were enrolled in the Regular Officer Training Plan (ROTP), and senior defence leadership directed that there would be no limitations on the employment of women "other than in the primary combat role, at some remote locations and at sea" (Davis, 1996). By the end of 1978, women numbered 4,786 to comprise 5.9 percent of the Regular component of the CF (DND, 1993), women were employed in 81 of 127 non-commissioned trades and officer classifications, and they were attending the CF Staff and National Defence Colleges (Davis, 1996).

Following decades of incremental change and struggle, women are now relatively well-represented in the areas of human resource policy analysis and development; however, they are significantly under-represented in leadership roles in day-to-day peacetime operations and operational deployments, both domestic and international. …

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