THE effectiveness of Australia's Defence Force will be compromised unless more women are recruited and retained.
This was one of the key findings contained in the phase two report of the Australian Human Rights Commission's review into the treatment of women in the ADF.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said the report, which was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday morning, made 21 recommendations.
Commissioner Broderick said failing to address the ADF's gender imbalance - women comprise just 13.8% of defence personnel - was not an option.
The report found women were chronically under-represented in the most senior ADF positions.
Just six of the 176 star-ranked officers across the army, navy and air force were women, the report found.
"Increasing the representation of women and improving their pathways into leadership goes to the very heart of the sustainability and operational effectiveness of the ADF," Commissioner Broderick said.
"To be a strong force into the future and a first-class employer with a first-class reputation, the ADF must address the problem of a shrinking talent pool, the significant cost of unwanted departures, the lack of diversity among leadership and the unacceptable behaviour sometimes faced by women."
Setting targets for female representation in "a small number of areas" would go a long way to remedying the imbalance, Commissioner Broderick said.
"In selected areas, targets are crucial to ensuring that women have the same opportunities as men in all aspects of ADF life," she said.
"Without these targets, there will be no change - men and women will not be operating on a level playing field."
Commissioner Broderick said ADF women desired identical treatment to their male colleagues, and were "highly resistant" to preferential treatment on the basis of gender.
She said she feared that without cultural change in the ADF women would struggle to "flourish".
Crucial to this was dealing with the issue of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination, the report found.
To this end, one of the report's recommendations calls for the immediate establishment of a dedicated office to respond to confidential complaints of sexual harassment, abuse or discrimination.
The other recommendations dealt with workplace flexibility and the responsibility of defence leadership to deliver and ensure effective reform.
Commissioner Broderick said there was a strong appetite for cultural change within the highest ranks of the ADF, but she stressed it would take time.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith welcomed the report's recommendations, which he said the government accepted in-principle.
He described it as a "deeply significant report about the ADF and about the future of the ADF".
"This is now the prism through which we will look ... at the treatment and role of women in the ADF into the future," Mr Smith said.
"The report makes it clear that the equal treatment of women is essential for operational effectiveness and defence capability in the modern era."
Defence Force Chief David Hurley said that for the ADF senior leadership implementing the recommendations represented a significant challenge.
"But we are committed to tackling our cultural challenges at their source," he said.
This report follows the release in November of the phase one report which looked at sexual harassment at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
Both reports form part of the extensive reviews of defence culture commissioned last year by Mr Smith in response to the ADFA Skye sex scandal.
- Chief of the Defence Force to be directly responsible for implementing the review's recommendations.
- Compiling of an annual Women in the ADF report, in addition to the ADF annual report.
- Selecting people for the most senior strategic leadership positions from a broader group of candidates, particularly women.
- Promote more women from non-warfare roles, such as health, supply and administrative positions.
- Creation of longer-term career plans for family stability.
- Establish innovative strategies to attract more women to the ADF, including a "try-before-you-buy" option (initial commitment of 12 months).
- Service chiefs set female recruitment targets, with details to be contained in annual report.
- Recruiting women to key roles in areas with low female representation, and ensure they receive the support required to remain in these positions.
- Support the removal of gender restrictions in a number of ways.
- Annual growth targets for number of flexible work arrangements (for men and women).
- Establishing as a priority a dedicated Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office.
- Urgently investigate ways to allow members to make confidential reports of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination.
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