An afternoon at CDSB Gagetown

Our team recently returned from leading a workshop at Canada’s largest military base in New Brunswick. Gagetown is home to about 6,000 full-time military and civilian personnel, and with five schools operating out of its Combat Training Centre, many military personnel end up deployed at Gagetown for at least some part of their career.

The army has recognized that sexual harassment and misconduct is a challenge to its forces, and in response launched Operation Honour. The mission is: “to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)”. As a direct order, the military now is tasked with the challenge of addressing a culture that has at its foundation a hierarchical, unambiguous chain-of command model.

We spent the afternoon at the military base with about 70 members of the infantry school, helping them to see and understand gender inequality and how it can be detrimental to the forces. Problems and challenges notwithstanding, we wanted to help members of the CAF understand that men can be a critical part of the solution, not just the problem. We talked about the need for all of us to intervene and play a role in naming and identifying when gender-based violence — physical, verbal, emotional is happening.

CAF members Mason Roberts (L) and Jeff Alpaugh (R) with Parker P. Consulting’s Trevor Mayoh

In turn, we learned about the challenges of unconscious bias that can exist within a culture that depends on a strong chain of command, which can often be demonstrated through hypermasculinity. We explored the challenge of requiring intensity and aggressiveness to do the job of a soldier, while also needing to develop the required emotional intelligence that allows them to work and interact with one another in a safe and inclusive way. Some officers expressed concerns around ensuring that the trust built with other colleagues wasn’t destroyed if they called out or reported inappropriate conduct. Others wondered if a purely disciplinary approach could remedy things. Some in fact wanted to “sort out” those who still thought sexual violence and misconduct were acceptable. The complexity and nuance are incredible.

Is the CAF an institution that can help challenge the unhealthy masculinities that men experience and arrive to the army full imbued with? By hearing from some of the men in the room, it sounds like there is a desire to find a healthier and safer way forward.

Every day, the CAF is tasked with protecting Canadians, defending the continent, and supporting peace and security around the globe. To do this, more than 50,000 soldiers need to be able to work alongside and with one another — to trust each other to do their best to achieve these goals. Over 10,000 women serve in the forces, making up roughly 12% of this workforce. They serve in a wide range of roles and are often well-respected for their accomplishments. Despite this presence of women throughout the forces, they still represent a minority within a hyper-masculine environment.

The CAF are tackling complex, incredible challenges every single day. They possess the capacity to successfully tackle this tough mission and as one participant put it — “Let’s not go 50% in. Let’s go 100% full-in…” when implementing Operation Honour. For the Canadian Armed Forces to deliver on Operation Honour, there’s a long, but important mission ahead. We’re pleased to have the lovely folks at Gagetown start on this path.