How does policy affect how diversity is weighted during senior promotion and/or appointment activities?

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By MWO Janet Ekstrom
Advanced Leadership Programme (ALP)
December 1, 2021

Introducing the Issue

The importance of diversity and inclusion within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) cannot be understated. Their benefits to the CAF are multidimensional and complex, but primarily; “populations in democratic societies expect their state institutions to reflect their society and its values through their governments. Failure to diversify thus puts the armed forces at odds with the society they serve, which has the potential to hamper the institution’s societal legitimacy” (Edgar, Mangat, & Momani, 2020, 20).

However, one has to wonder with the Government of Canada (GC) quantitatively directing gender/diversity specifics, as per Canada’s Defence Policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged (SSE), what impact this may have on establishing the importance of gender/diversity over other qualifying factors such as education, experience and capability; particularly, when it comes to establishing competent and effective leaders within the CAF.

Speculation by mainline media indicates that our current Chief of Defence Staff’s (CDS) retirement is being delayed to fulfill the government’s agenda, querying “whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will seek to burnish his progressive credentials by naming a woman as the CDS” (Fisher, 2020). This article further expands on the fact that, at this time, there is not a female general who is currently qualified to take the position but contemplates that; “though (Major-General) Carignan is not a three-star, there is no technical reason why the prime minister could not bump her up two ranks and give her the job” (Fisher, 2020). Thus, this leads one to question: Is this the right approach to fill our highest-ranking position? How does policy affect how diversity is weighted during senior promotion and/or appointment activities? Have we swung the pendulum too far as it relates to leadership and diversity within the CAF? Shouldn’t strong effective leaders percolate to the top based upon merit and capability?

Describing the Context

In describing the context of this professional issue, the CF Effectiveness Framework (Department of National Defence, 2005, 48-49, Table 4-1) can be directly linked to all five of its dimensions. However, for the purposes of this paper, only three dimensions will be discussed: Member Well-being and Commitment, Mission Success and Military Ethos (Italicized for enhanced clarity).

Promotions based upon gender/diversity rather than merit and capability negatively impacts the enabling outcome (Department of National Defence, 2005, 19) Member Well-being and Commitment to the CAF. Feelings of dissatisfaction, decreased intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, degraded confidence in leadership and the institution among those un-promoted members will exist and ultimately lead to potential retention issues within the CAF. Conversely, the promoted member’s confidence and performance are negatively affected as they are biasedly seen to lack credibility; an exceptionally invaluable trait to have questioned, as it is rated second and third, respectively, within the CAF’s top ten competencies for Officers and NCMs (Department of National Defence, 2019, 2). As an institution, leaders have a responsibility to accommodate personal needs [within] a professional development/career system while [honouring] social contracts. If senior promotion and appointments are noticeably tied to gender/diversity and not merit and capability, certain social contract principles are being overlooked; fair and equitable compensation as well as suitable recognition (Department of National Defence, 2005, 51) are both being dismissed, directly compromising operational effectiveness.

Mission Success, a primary outcome, (Department of National Defence, 2005, 19) is negatively impacted through this type of promotion process. Professional competence is not achieved if individuals are promoted without the required experience and knowledge. When members are promoted into key positions too quickly and partake in higher level leadership discussions, they are unable to be effective as they lack the experience and expertise to speak intelligently and deliver constructive and sound resolutions to the table. These leaders lose credibility, where often times their input is not viewed as value added and consequently ignored. Institutionally, by promoting our members too soon, all levels of leadership within the CAF are weakened. Essentially, we are left with an inexperienced and poorly developed leadership cadre and in the long term, the leadership cadre will become “watered down”; thereby, adversely affecting operational effectiveness once again.

Our Military Ethos, a conduct value, (Department of National Defence, 2005, 19) will also not be upheld should promotions be seen to occur for any other reason than merit and capability. A climate of respect for individual rights is not maintained if a requirement of diversity is used for senior promotions/appointments. Moreover, respect for diversity will be compromised as diversity will become the focal point as to why one believes a certain gender/diverse individual was promoted – an individual’s credibility will be questioned. The institution’s ethical culture will also be questioned. Integrity, as it relates to fairness, will be viewed not to exist at the highest levels. This in itself could lead to a serious degradation of our ethical culture; eroding the framework of the CAF’s professional identity.

We need to train our members at the correct time, employ them in the appropriate positions for the proper reasons and for adequate duration so that our leaders can perform effectively at all levels of leadership within the CAF.

Mapping the Environment

In trying to discern the initial issue; if promotions and appointments were too heavily weighted on diversity, it became clear through initial mapping (Annex A – Mind Map, p1) (colour coded for enhanced clarity) that this question was extremely vast and not easily proven as there was no actual measure. Through further mind mapping it was determined that policy (Annex A – Mind Map, p2) must be the focal point used to map/analyse the resultant professional issue; “How does policy affect how diversity is weighted during senior promotion/appointment activities”.

Looking through the lenses (concepts) of Communication, Fairness and Motivation (Annex A p2) one can clearly see that they are directly linked to the CF Effectiveness Framework and backlinked to the issue at hand. In applying these lenses to study the system of Policy, researching the sub-systems of Law, SSE, The Charter, Military Personnel Management Doctrine, The Constitution, The Code of Values and Ethics, and any other policy that may arise during the process, was deemed necessary.

When examining the sub-systems of Policy, analysis once again occurred through the 3 lenses: Communication, Motivation and Fairness, taken from the CF Effectiveness Framework. These sub-systems are inter-related through these lenses. For example, if there is an expectation that there is equality in policy, (Fairness lens), the incorrect interpretation of policy, (Communication lens), would impact this equality. Similarly, Policy that isn’t communicated with transparency, (Communication lens) ensuring equal access to knowledge (Fairness lens) for promotion criteria (Communication lens) directly impacts motivation for both diverse and non-diverse members (Motivation lens). Diverse members may experience increased motivation to streamline professionally. Conversely, they may experience decreased motivation reflective of the Culture that undermines members of their professional accomplishments through stereotyping (Belanger, 2018, 37) and questioning promotion credibility. Non-diverse members may also experience decreased motivation for reasons of favoritism (Fairness lens).

A Policy sub-system such as Canada’s Defence Policy, Strong Secure and Engaged (SSE), provides information on target numbers to reflect how much the CAF intends to increase diversity within the organization and provides a timeline of when: “the Canadian Armed Forces will increase the proportion of women in the military by 1 percent annually, to move from the current 15 percent to 25 percent representation by 2026” (Department of National Defence, 2017, 12). SSE further states that “we are committed to attracting, recruiting and retaining more women in the CAF across all ranks (how) and promoting women into senior leadership positions” (Department of National Defence, 2017, 20-21). This initiative implies perceived direction that women shall be promoted into senior leadership positions; once again touching on the fairness and motivation lenses with regard to diversity bias culture. While there are other reasons why the government might be interested to increase diversity, potential legal (law) implications such as Charter of Rights and Freedoms violations do exist if the CAF doesn’t increase diversity.

Analysing the Problems

As per the map, analysis of this professional issue was conducted through the lenses, or concepts, of communication, motivation and fairness as they relate to current policy or doctrine.

Concept 1 - Communication

Communication is vital to the CAF. Communication occurs “when information of some sort is transferred between the person who is sending the message and the person, or persons, on the receiving end of that message” (MacIntyre & Charbonneau, 2008, 114). Without proper communication, leaders have no way to impart their influence on others and thus leadership cannot exist (MacIntyre & Charbonneau, 2008, 114).

There are four attributes that must be considered in order to have effective communication – the source, the message, the audience and the channel. The source (sender) must be credible and trustworthy; the message must be relevant, targeted and coherent; the audience must be able to decode the message and the channel of delivery has to be appropriate to the message being conveyed. (MacIntyre & Charbonneau, 2008, 116-119).

Communication as it relates to the professional issue of how does policy affect how diversity is weighted during promotion or appointment activities is best analysed through reference to the Canadian Forces Joint Publication (CFJP) 1.0 Military Personnel Management Doctrine and the Personnel Management Conceptual Model contained within (Department of National Defence, 2008, 4-1). The desired effect of this model is to have the right person with the right qualifications in the right place at the right time be promoted into key positions or senior appointments. What it fails to address, or communicate is; one should be promoted/appointed for also the right reason as pointed out by Necole E. Belanger in the article The Accidental Strategic Chief Petty Officer / Chief Warrant Officer (Belanger, 2016, 68) – the message is not coherent.

Through further analysis of the Canadian Government’s Defence Policy - Strong, Secure, Engaged, and their direction on increasing diversity and women within the CAF, one may speculate that the right reason may be in question when it comes to promotions and appointments. When statements, to the like, are made “we are committed to attracting, recruiting and retaining more women in the Canadian Armed Forces across all ranks and promoting women into senior leadership positions” (Department of National Defence, 2017, 21) the sender’s or leadership’s trustworthiness is brought into question as it appears there may exist a bias towards promoting women (in this case) over men in order to increase women’s representation within the CAF from 15% to 25% by 2026, a 1% increase per year (Department of National Defence, 2017, 12).

While members may have the scoring criteria at selection boards communicated to them, confirming which boxes need to be ticked, those requirements only get the individual to the “promotion/appointment table”. It is up to the selection board to choose the right person, with the right qualifications, in the right place, at the right time, for the right reason. Transparency, in these regards, is a must to end any speculation that senior promotions or appointments are done for the wrong reason.

Concept 2 - Motivation

Motivation, as defined by university professors Gary Johns and Alan Saks, is “the extent to which persistent effort is directed toward a goal” (Browne & Walker, 2008, 415). “Individuals are generally motivated to satisfy an emotional necessity, directed by values and opportunities” (Browne & Walker, 2008, 415). These values and opportunities can be further labeled respectively as intrinsic motivation – “usually self-directed” (Browne & Walker, 2008, 417), or extrinsic motivation – “often externally influenced” (Browne & Walker, 2008, 418). In addition, motivation can be further refined as being needs based as per Maslow’s Hierarchy Theory (Browne & Walker, 2008, 419) and thus must be observed and respected to ensure an individual’s well-being is properly cared for.

As leaders within the CAF, we have a responsibility to properly motivate our personnel in order to improve organizational effectiveness (Browne & Walker, 2008, 425) if we are to achieve mission success. Therefore, it is imperative that we consider both intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors when applying leadership methods and rewards. “Members’ circumstances vary widely though, so the challenge for institutional leaders is to ensure that rewards are equitable (proportional to merit), accurately affect needs, and are applied systematically” (Browne & Walker, 2008, 421).

Promotions and/or appointments within the CAF is one avenue used to motivate members. Intrinsically, members may be motivated by job satisfaction, a sense of purpose or an increased value of self-worth. While extrinsically, members may be motivated by the increase in pay, a need to be recognized or acknowledged for their efforts or the associated power of the new position.

Motivation as it relates to the professional issue of how does policy affect how diversity is weighted during senior promotion or appointment activities is best analysed again by dissecting the Canadian Government’s Defense policy - Strong, Secure Engaged and how it intends to increase diversity and inclusion in the CAF. Quantitatively, direction is given to increase women within the CAF from 15% to 25% by 2026 (Department of National Defence, 2017, 12). When statements, to the like, are made “we are committed to attracting, recruiting and retaining more women in the Canadian Armed Forces across all ranks and promoting women into senior leadership positions” (Department of National Defence, 2017, 21) one may conclude that women, and therefore diverse members as well, may not be promoted on merit and the promotion process isn’t systematic but gender/diversity based.

Concept 3 – Military Ethos

Military ethos – “the spirit that animates the profession of arms and underpins operational effectiveness” (Bentley, 2008, 455), is comprised of “three fundamental components: Beliefs and Expectations about Military Service, Canadian Values, and Core Canadian Military Values” (Bentley, 2008, 455). In the interest of brevity, only the latter two will be discussed further as to how ethos relates directly to fairness.

As a free and democratic country, it is essential that Canadian Values be reflected within all matters related to the CAF (Department of National Defence, 2005, 22). The most accurate representation of Canadian values is contained within the legislation of the Constitution Act 1982 and, more importantly to this discussion, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Bentley, 2008, 456). Within the Charter, “Every Individual is equal… without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability” (Canadian Charter, 1982, 15(1)).

Equally essential to the CAF’s military ethos are the Ethical Principles of the Department of National Defence (DND) and CAF; Respect the dignity of all persons, Serve Canada before self and Obey and support lawful authority, as they “are consistent with our most fundamental democratic ideals”. (Department of National Defence, 2012, 9). Intended to be applied in order of precedence; Respect the dignity of all persons lies at the forefront. Furthermore, the primary expected behaviour within this principle states that one will be able to accomplish this by “treating every person with respect and fairness” (Department of National Defence, 2012, 9). In addition to the previously mentioned principles, the Code of Values and Ethics further explains that, Integrity, Loyalty, Courage, Stewardship and Excellence should be guiding values for all CAF members (Department of National Defence, 2012, 9). While one value is not weighted any differently than the other in this case, the value of Integrity is of particular interest to this discussion as it too guides CAF members to be “dedicated to fairness and justice”. (Department of National Defence, 2012, 9).

In analysing military ethos, specifically equality, respect the dignity of all persons, integrity and therefore fairness, in regards to the professional issue of how does policy affect how diversity is weighted during promotion or appointment activities, one can observe two potential contradictory situations. If the following statement from the Defense Policy - Strong, Secure, Engaged; “we are committed to attracting, recruiting and retaining more women in the Canadian Armed Forces across all ranks and promoting women into senior leadership positions” (Department of National Defence, 2017, 21) was intended to promote equality, as per the Charter of Rights, to ensure diversity was observed, it could also be observed to violate those same rights of the non-diverse male if preferential treatment is given to women and diverse individuals. In addition, if this statement is viewed as direction, or even perceived as direction, then those senior leaders on selection boards will have their integrity challenged – an ethical risk exists. Fairness will not endure if promotions/appointments are more heavily weighted with respect to increasing gender or diversity numbers rather than merit.

Presenting the Recommendations

Unfortunately, as with any complex issue, there is not one specific recommendation that can be applied singularly to each problem. Instead, by improving objectiveness, increasing transparency and providing relevant education and training these problems can be collectively mitigated or improved as they pertain to how senior promotions and appointments are achieved. One may speculate that changing the policies, which have been identified to highlight this issue, be an obvious solution; however, this is considered a rather simplistic approach and, while contemplated, it has been dismissed as such.

Recommendation 1 - Objectivity

Subjectivity needs to be removed from the promotion/appointment process and an objective playing field must be set. Essentially, by making the process more objective, fairness will be strengthened. This can be accomplished by the implementation of blind Personnel Evaluation Reports (PERs), conducting behavioural testing for applicants and establishing guidelines to remove ambiguities within the evaluation process that may lead to bias (Mackenzie, Wehner, & Correll, 2019). The CAF has taken steps towards introducing gender equality within the PER process by directing supervisors to remove pronouns such as he/his and she/her and replacing them with either rank and name or the gender-neutral pronouns they/their (CANFORGEN 045/20, 2020). While this is an initial step in the right direction towards removing potential gender bias from the process, the fact remains that, in most cases, a person’s gender or diversity can be determined from their name. While a supervisor cannot write a blind PER, as they are required to know who they are evaluating, the names can be removed from the PER when they are sent to the senior promotion/appointment board. This will reduce the potential for gender/diversity bias and therefore, mitigate the ethical risk associated with the dilemma of either promoting/appointing the best person for the position or attaining gender/diversity requirements - be they actual or perceived.

Implementing behavioural testing can also remove subjectiveness from the senior promotion/appointment process (Trifaux, 2020). Having a pre-determined set of questions that are asked of each applicant, for example; “Tell me about a time when you made a decision without having all of the information”- thereby assessing the applicant’s decision-making abilities - can reset the playing field objectively should biases have crept into competing PERs and assist in identifying strong candidates for specific appointments. As each applicant will be subjected to identical questions for the position that they are in competition over, fairness will be maintained.

Research has shown that ambiguities within the evaluation process may lead to biases even though the evaluator’s intention is to be completely objective and non-bias (Mackenzie, Wehner, & Correll, 2019). It was determined that the questions supervisors ask of their subordinates prior to evaluating them lead to these ambiguities. The majority of questions are “general and open-ended precisely because they must apply to everyone in the organization, regardless of level or function” (Mackenzie, Wehner, & Correll, 2019). One specific example applicable to the CAF is the use of “brag sheets”, in which a member is to provide their professional accomplishments of the past year to their supervisor to assist with the evaluation process. “Without structure, people are more likely to rely on gender, race and other stereotypes when making decisions” (Mackenzie, Wehner, & Correll, 2019). “While [a person’s] stereotypes are subject to change, … a key impairment to changing stereotypes is the fact that the stereotypes themselves act as “cognitive filters” through which we select what information to use, what to ignore and how to interpret it. As a result of this filtering, disconfirming information about stereotypes is assimilated less easily than neutral or confirming information.” (MacIntyre, 2008, 476). In order to account for these biases, the researchers recommend developing processes that “require specificity in managers’ assessments” (Mackenzie, Wehner, & Correll, 2019) but conclude that re-vamping the entire evaluation process is not necessarily needed. Removing naturally occurring biases from the PER process is another way in which the CAF can ensure fairness is sustained.

Recommendation 2 - Transparency

Transparency within the senior promotion/appointment process must be increased. In other words, communication needs to be improved in order to provide a better understanding of the process to candidates. This can be achieved by, ensuring PER Scoring Criteria (SCRITS) is easily accessible and readily available to all and that effective and constructive feedback from promotion/appointment boards is available to the applicant.

By ensuring SCRITS is available to all, the CAF would be effectively articulating the requirements considered applicable and required for promotion. The communication “channel” and “message” are extremely important in this regard. The channel chosen must be available to all and at any time, as such, a website on DWAN would allow a proper conduit for this type of information. The message must be concise and coherent; using a table relevant to each individual rank would accomplish this requirement.

Constructive feedback from promotion/appointment boards is crucial to allow for personal improvement. While the CAF effectively provides valuable feedback during the PER de-briefing process between the supervisor and subordinate, a candidate that is up for promotion or appointment will not be informed as to why or why they were not successful. By providing this additional feedback, speculation on the areas one needs to improve will be removed. To be considered effective feedback in this case, the criteria used to determine a successful candidate must be clear. The feedback must also be “improvement-oriented” (Charbonneau & MacIntyre, 2008, 357) essentially, providing a road map for where the candidate’s focus needs to be redirected in order to be successful.

Improving transparency, and thus improving communication, will provide numerous benefits to the CAF. Removing the veil, or the perceived veil, of secrecy surrounding promotion and appointment will allow for the leadership’s trustworthiness to be maintained and/or restored. A member’s motivation will be stimulated as a result of receiving improvement-oriented feedback, allowing them to concisely target where they need to focus in order be rewarded through the promotion/appointment process. In addition, through complete transparency, fairness will be maintained, and observed, as the promotion/appointment process will be linked to merit and capability and therefore, for the right reason.

Recommendation 3 - Education

Educating the CAF on these potential changes is critical to ensure that the message is conveyed to all effectively providing the framework for their execution. Organizational effectiveness depends on it. Supervisors must be trained and subordinates informed so a clear understanding of the how, as well as the why, is communicated.

Supervisors must be taught methods that remove ambiguities that lead to biases during the construction of a subordinate’s evaluation. They must understand that the removal of bias will enhance the objectivity of the promotion/appointment process, enhancing further the blind PER recommendation and thus promoting fairness within the CAF.

Human Resource (HR) entities, as well as promotion/appointment boards, must be educated on how to develop and use, respectively, behavioural testing results to aid in selecting proper applicants for positions. Thus, using a “fit for purpose” mind set, as it is done within the civilian corporate world (Trifaux, 2020).

All CAF members must be equally informed as to where to find and how to interpret all relative and up to date SCRITS details. They must be educated on the new methods of objectivity, and therefore fairness, that are being incorporated into the promotion/appointment process. They must also be taught on how to accurately interpret promotion/appointment board feedback so it can be appropriately used to effectively target their focus in order to achieve their goals.


In summary, by ensuring fairness, communicated through transparency and enhanced by education, of the CAF’s recognition and reward system of promotions and appointments, numerous benefits occur as they relate to the CAF’s effectiveness. The member’s well-being and commitment is preserved as their success is appropriately recognized and rewarded; thus, stimulating both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Faith within our leadership and the institution is restored. Morale, and therefore retention, within the CAF will improve; resultantly, increasing the potential senior leadership pool as motivated individuals become re-energized and pursue further professional achievements. The right person, with the right qualifications, at the right time, in the right place, for the right reason is promoted/appointed and the future leadership cadre is rightly developed, reinforcing mission success. An ethical culture is protected, demonstrated through the consistent application of core principles and values leading towards fairness which is so critical in promoting the CAF’s Military Ethos.


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Annex A

Mind Map, p1


Mind Map, p2

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