My professional issue: Gendered Comprehension of leadership

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By Elton Adams
Advanced Leadership Programme (ALP)
May 25, 2021

Introducing the Issue

A current professional issue in the CAF stems from a lack of understanding of gender dimensions. It is vital for senior leadership to recognize how gender affects the lives of people and how insecurities and career disadvantages related to gender seep into the tactical, operational, and strategic spatial levels. Chinkin and Kaldor (2017) expressed that an inadequate understanding of gender dynamics fails to take account of how gender constructs peoples’ everyday experiences… and inhibits proper policy considerations (p. 499).

Advocacy for gender equality through the lens of leadership must be a top priority item in the CAF. The prevention of workplace inequality and career limitations, tackling issues related to power dynamics between supervisors and subordinates, improved colleague professional relationships, and the enhancement of morale will only be possible when gendered dimensions become an integral part of leadership. To achieve this crucial objective and produce a local, national, and international example of equity and equality, an institutional change must be generated by utilizing a bottom-up and top-down approach to address this issue. The next section of this report will contextually highlight this professional issue and link multiple components to the CF Effectiveness Framework.

Describing the Context

Men and women experience the workplace differently, so it is vital that senior leadership of the CAF understand how these differences can affect the work environment. This ideology is intimately linked to the member well-being and commitment dimension of the CF Effectiveness Framework (DND, 2005, p. 20). This dimension underlines the importance of caring for members, equity, workplace conditions, and fair treatment of all members. Meeting the critical components of this dimension will only be achieved by ensuring that gender blindness within the CAF is eliminated and a conceptual framework of gendered dimensions become an integral part of leadership. In addition, satisfying this CF dimension will play a big role in leading the institution by accommodating personal needs in the professional development/career system (DND, 2005, p. 48). Ignoring gender diversity will generate institutional problems by creating workplace inequality, producing career limitations, and destroying morale.

The importance of tackling gender issues is also connecting to building trust, confidence, and solidarity amongst military members and their units. This notion is underlined in the Internal integration dimension of the CF Effectiveness Framework (DND, 2005, p. 20). DND (2005) conveyed that “internal integration signifies… cohesion and teamwork” (p. 21). Effective collaboration and healthy relationships will break down in absence of equity, equality, and fairness. Further, developing a coherent body of policy (DND, 2005, p. 48) that acknowledges dissimilarities of gender will be essential to leading the institution in a positive light. CAF policy and leadership principles must not be gender blind, CAF policy must not create the perception of neutrality because lived experiences, culture, and perceptions of different genders vary. Inclusiveness cannot be achieved by ignoring different genders but by creating policy that projects the uniqueness, sensitivities, and abilities of different genders. The next section of this paper will provide a visual aid in the form of a Mind Map which will display key connections between systems and subsystems that are related to this professional issue. When reading the upcoming section, please refer to annex A of this report (the words are coloured for ease of reading).

Mapping the Environment

Located at the core of the annex A mind map is a gendered understanding of leadership, this core is connected to multiple advocacy systems such as inclusiveness and non-gender- blind policy. In addition, there is a positive correlation between the advocacy systems and prevention systems such as toxic work environments and career impacts. Resolving issues related to gender will meet the expectations outlined in the CF Effectiveness Framework (DND, 2005).

Systems and Subsystems-Inclusiveness

Follow the blue advocacy branch into the system of inclusiveness. In relation to the subsystem of statistics, the Government of Canada (2021) relayed that there are currently only 12 women in general and flag officer positions in the CAF and the Government of Canada (2020) conveyed that the total representation of women in the CAF is only 16 %. Recruitment methods must be tailored to hiring women in order to dramatically increase this low representation. In addition, the CAF must advocate for women to occupy high-level decision-making positions (explained in recommendations section).

Systems and Subsystems-Policy

Follow the red advocacy branch into the system of non-gender-blind policies. Chinkin and Kaldor (2017) relayed that gender blindness “does not identify… the ways women experience insecurity differently from men… (p. 495). Gender-neutral policy creates an assumption that all genders experience the work environment equally, this is a fallacy. Policies that are not gender blind will positively feed into, CAF overarching policies, leadership principles and definitions, specific occupational policies, and unit operational procedures.

Systems and Subsystems- Toxic Work Environment

Follow the green prevention branch into the system of toxic work environment. A failure to understand gender dynamics will cause an unfavourable work environment, Anderlini and el-Bushra (2004) stated that “Women encounter discriminatory laws and practices in the workplace… they experience a high incidence of sexual harassment and workplace violence” (p. 31). In addition, the Government of Canada (2019) reported that in 2018, it was reported that sexual assault was four times more prevalent among regular force women than men and six times more prevalent in the primary reserve.

Systems and Subsystems- Career Impact

Follow the black prevention branch into the system of career impact. Lane (2020) relayed the subsystems that will feed into career impact stating that “Women will continue to have their military careers cut short by sexual harassment and sexist, male-dominated working conditions and performance expectations” (p. 362). Lane (2020) also noted that existence of inappropriate power dynamics between men and women, expressing that many assaults toward women are committed by superiors and there is a general negative perception of women leaders from men subordinates.

Subsystem Yellow-Lined Connectors

Yellow lines identify the subsystem connectors as per the following:

    Negative perception of women is linked to vulnerabilities and workplace harassment;
  • Inappropriate power dynamics are connected to discrimination;
  • CAF overarching policies that are not gender-blind will mitigate the issue of male-dominated working conditions;
  • Occupational policies that are not gender-blind will mitigate the issue of careers cut short for women; and
  • Recruiting more women and advocating for women to occupy high-level decision-making positions will decrease violence and sexual assaults against women (explained in the recommendations section).

Institutional, National and International Security (identified by the pink circular lines)

The lack of understanding of gender dimensions (located under the thick centre red line) has caused a negative correlation that extends beyond institutional security. In reference to national security Brewster (2021) expressed how sexual misconduct threatens CAF recruitment and Lane (2020) conveyed that “exclusion of women from the CAF has serious security and societal consequences for Canada (P. 354). In relation to international security, Kofi Anan (2006) conveyed that, “women's empowerment … including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace” (p. 1). In contrast, comprehension of gender dynamics (located under the thick centre red line) will also extend to the further boundaries of international security, but in a positive light. In the upcoming section, this report will produce a thorough analysis of this professional issue, underlining plausible resolutions linked to a better understanding of gender dimensions.

Analyzing the Problems

A lack of understanding of gender dimensions is most certainly a complex issue that will require integrated solutions. This report argues that systems thinking, communication, and transformational leadership will be key to resolving issues related to gender dynamics.

Problem and Concept 1- Systems Thinking

Systems thinking approach to this issue will generate effective results because the systems thinking analysis is best suited for identifying the root causes of ill-structured problems (“Wicked Problems”) and generating multifaceted resolutions for complex issues. DND (2007) relayed that “Systems thinking is a way of thinking about, interpreting and understanding the CF and the relationships among various systems and Subsystems” (p. 27). It will be extremely important to analyze the relationships that exist between gender and other components of the workplace, such as how gender is connected to other aspects of identity, how gender is linked to HR processes, and what correlations exist between gender and discrimination, harassment, and misconduct.

Further, systems thinking is essential to constructing a learning environment because it creates a workplace atmosphere that encourages innovation, ideas, and creative solutions from all members of the CAF regardless of rank and gender. Acknowledging the perspectives of women at various levels and in various occupations, the inclusion of men and women in generating solutions and writing policy that is not gender-blind, and the systematic buy-in from all groups can be supported by utilizing a system thinking process.

Problem and Concept 2- Communication

The concept of communication will be key to conveying powerful persuasive messages that enhances the comprehension of gender dynamics in the work environment. MacIntyre and Charbonneau (2008) expressed that effective communication can only be achieved by knowing the audience and selecting the correct communication channels. Gender dimensions are complex so messaging related to its content must be tailored when transmitted to various groups of people and multiple communication platforms should be used to relay this complicated information. In addition, due to the sensitive nature of gender dynamics, leaders must ensure that they create a safe workspace for open dialogue and two-way messaging; this will encourage healthy discussions, provide further explanations, and allow time for the receivers to process what they have learned. Lastly, it will be important to select the right source(s) to deliver material associated with this topic, MacIntyre and Charbonneau (2008) conveyed that “The source characteristics that come into play during the communication process are primarily associated with the credibility and trustworthiness of the message sender” (p. 116).

Problem and Concept 3- Transformational Leadership

The implementation of transformational leadership will be an essential element to achieving a comprehensive understanding of gender within the CAF. DND (2007) conveyed that “Cultural change strategies will rely upon transformational leadership skills such as education, communication, dialogue and consultation, and perhaps most importantly, alternative role modelling” (p. 34). Fostering a work environment where leaders encourage equality, respect, and understanding amongst employees are critical mechanisms of the four concepts transformational leadership. The concept of idealized influence results in leaders being role models for their subordinates, when leaders are effectively promoting the inclusion and advancement of women in the workplace other members will follow suit. The concept of inspirational motivation encourages all members to collectively partake in mission objectives; a shared vision and solidarity among members are central to eliminating issues related to gender. Intellectual stimulation encourages members to have a voice and to “challenge their own beliefs and values as well as those of the leader and the organization” (p. 346), this concept is needed to change the current climate of the CAF to one that is more inclusive and diverse. Lastly, the concept of individualized consideration promotes a workplace that addresses the needs of its members. The final section of this report will present various recommendations that can greatly assist with resolving many key issues related to gender dimensions in the CAF.

Presenting the Recommendations

The below recommendations stem from the above-mentioned concepts and are intimately linked to mission success. Utilizing the S.M.A.R.T tool to guide the output of each recommendation this section will highlight key suggestions that are vital to resolving this professional issue.

Recommendation 1- Eliminate Gender-Blind Policy

The CAF must make every effort to eliminate gender blindness within their policies and leadership principles. The WHO (2010) relayed that “Gender-blind policies, though they may appear to be unbiased, are often, in fact, based on information derived from men’s activities and/or the assumption that women affected by policies have the same needs and interests as men”. (p. 194). Also, policy must accurately conceptualize deep understandings of gender through the lens of leadership. Jacobs, George and De (2021) conveyed that “how gender is conceptualized matters, both for policy analysis and for praxis, and that policy documents can be foundations for transforming gender and intersecting power relations” (p. 9).

The CAF must implement policies that are both gender specific and gender redistributive. Gender-specific policies will address the specific needs of gender and gender-redistributive policies will “rebalance the power structure to create a more balanced relationship between men and women” (WHO, 2010, p. 195). Measurable results of this recommendation will be long-term (approximately 10 years) and will be first initiated with gender specific correspondence. Culture change can take time; however, attitudes, behaviours and decreased incidents of inappropriate and criminal acts will be a sign of positive change. MacIntyre (2008) sated that the attitudes of leaders “will influence their behavioural intentions, and their followers will be similarly swayed by these mostly subconscious drives” (p. 26). This recommendation is attainable and realistic and will be intimately connected to institutional change. “While institutional change is not necessarily the same as policy change, there are some instances when the two overlap” (Cerna, L. 2013). Lastly, this recommendation is relevant to achieving a gendered comprehension of leadership and must be implemented immediately.

Recommendation 2- Inclusiveness- Recruiting

Government of Canada (2020) conveyed that the total representation of women in the CAF is only 16 %, recruiting must be better. The need for more women in the CAF will not only better national security (Lane, 2020) but will also enhance the delivery of international front-line security services to those in need. For example, Anderlini and el-Bushra, J. (2004) underlined that there have been numerous incidents of male peacekeepers committing sex crimes and gender-based violence against vulnerable people in need of security services. Due to this horrific reality, policymakers have generated recruitment campaigns to hire more women (Anderlini and el-Bushra, 2004). Echoing this concept, the International Association for Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (2007) expressed that sound strategy to tackle gender sensitive crimes can be established by including more women. Further, the Government of Canada (2020) launched the Elsie Initiative for women in peace operations in response to the fact that there are 83,000 military and police peacekeepers and only 7% are women. This recommendation is achievable, over time the CAF has increased the representation of women to 16 percent and this number can continue to grow. The current lack of inclusiveness is connected to the heart of this professional issue and the CAF is responsible to mend this serious problem now. Gabriel, R. (2007) conveyed that, “If some behaviour is not conducive to military effectiveness and some values are unacceptable because they erode the moral foundations of the profession, then the profession is responsible for protecting itself and its members from such behaviour and values” (p. 78).

Recommendation 3- Inclusiveness- High-level Decision-making

The Government of Canada (2021) relayed that there are currently only 12 women in general and flag officer positions in the CAF. Studies have shown that a fair representation of women in high-level positions in invaluable. For example, an equal representation of women in parliament will result in fewer human rights abuses, wars, and acts of violence committed by the state. Ballington (2008) stated that “Women are… likely to advocate measures in the areas of health and reproduction, childcare, education, welfare and the environment, and are generally less militaristic and more supportive of non-violence and peace” (p. 32). In addition, United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 has been instrumental in supporting this ideology by urging member states to increase the representation of women within all levels of government and other sectors, and by encouraging the implementation of women leadership at high decision-making levels. The 1995 Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration also call for increased participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels relaying that “Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspective at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved” (p. 181). The equitable distribution of power at all levels of decision-making will not only be vital to the advancement of women’s rights and liberties but will also be key to tackling the root causes of this professional issue. The results of this recommendation can be measured by an increase in the representation of women at high-level decision-making positions, an achievable notion due to the fact that there are 12 women generals in the CAF, this number can increase. This recommendation is relevant to inclusiveness and must be implemented now.


In summary, a gendered focus of leadership must be implemented to resolve existing insecurities in the CAF. Men and women experience life differently, these differences must be analyzed and fully explored to meet the objectives of equity. Women continue to be victims of inappropriate behaviour and harassment, and currently there is a gross deficit in relation to the involvement of women with implementing gender-specific policies that can resolve these issues. The number of men and women in Canada are nearly equal but yet only a tiny percentage of women have been enabled to share their intelligence and unique perspectives in the CAF. The inclusion of women and promotion to high-level decision-making positions is a must to ensure a healthy work environment in the CAF. Lastly, promoting the insertion of women in all sectors of the CAF is a national and international security item; the empowerment of women will diminish their vulnerabilities and the participation of women will make the world safer and smarter.

Annex A

Mind Map


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MacIntyre, A. (2008), “Attitudes”, in Horn, B. & Walker, R.W. (Ed.), The Military Leadership Handbook. (pp. 15-30), Toronto: Dundurn Press.

MacIntyre. A. & Charbonneau, D. (2008), “Communication”, in Horn, B. & Walker, R.W. (Ed.), The Military Leadership Handbook. (pp. 114-128), Toronto: Dundurn Press.

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