DEFENCE FORCE women want to be able to work part-time or from home while on maternity leave.

They also want to be kept in touch with their units and allowed to do training courses, so their careers don’t suffer while they are taking time off to have children.

They want more female role models who have had it all – a career in defence and family – and "made it".

And they don’t want to be the ones always forced to sacrifice their careers, just because their partner is also in the Defence Force and is male.

This is what Defence women told Warren Snowdon, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, when he asked them why they thought more women weren’t joining the ADF.

Despite more military employment opportunities for women over the past 10 years, their workforce participation in the Defence Force has stayed static at 13 per cent. This is compared to 46 per cent of women being in the wider workforce. And while 52 per cent of men leave the ADF before 10 years, the figure for women is 70 per cent.

So when Mr Snowdon, an MP from the Northern Territory, became responsible for Defence personnel late last year, he decided to find out from the women themselves what was turning them off a military career. "I looked at the profile of the Defence Force and it didn’t really replicate the Australian population," he told the Herald . "One of the most obvious things was the under-representation of women. I thought what I needed to do was find a way to get a better understanding of women’s views of their occupation ."

He has held 16 round-tables – the 17th and final one will be held today – with more than 200 women of all ranks and from all three services plus the public service, in every state and territory.

Mr Snowdon said a few women mentioned the overtly male culture of the Defence Force being a "barrier" to females. They said they found the many informal male networks that exist in the Defence Force difficult, and felt they had to "prove themselves" in order to be accepted by their male colleagues. Some women were reluctant to network with other women because this was ridiculed by men. Some women believed the Defence Force needed to market itself differently to attract more females – and show women doing "real jobs".

But the most common complaint was that Defence needed to create a more flexible work environment for women with families, a gripe Mr Snowdon said could apply to any serving person, especially those with children.

The women wanted a specific policy for couples where both partners worked in the Defence Force. At the moment there were often no opportunities for them when their partner was posted and they were forced to take a job one or two levels below their current role.

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