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Defence diversity

Defence’s commitment to building capability through inclusion reinforces our commitment under Pathway to Change 2017–22 to building a highly capable and modern workforce through inclusion. In 2019–20 Defence focused on inclusion, representation, attraction and retention of women; Indigenous Australians; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; people from culturally diverse backgrounds; and people with disabilities.

Defence currently has five diversity streams and associated champion positions, focusing on supporting, promoting and engaging with our diverse Defence community.

Defence proudly continues to participate in days of significance and importance. In 2019–20 we participated in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade and celebrated International Women’s Day; Harmony Week; the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia; National Reconciliation Week; and National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week.


In 2019–20 Defence’s efforts to further gender equality focused on women’s representation in leadership roles, mentoring and networking, capability development, and participation in STEM fields.

Defence was recognised for its commitment to gender equity, receiving the Athena SWAN Bronze Award in 2020. The Athena SWAN Awards are an initiative under the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program, which aims to promote equity and diversity in STEM. The Bronze Award recognises Defence’s commitment to advancing the careers of women not only in STEM fields but also across all the Groups and Services.

Defence, along with other large employers, sponsored the inaugural Catalysing Gender Equity Conference in February 2020 and is committed to championing the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, a shared vision for the STEM sector to attract, retain and advance girls and women in STEM education and careers. As a champion of the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, Defence has agreed to publicly align its gender equity actions with the plan.

To increase the number of women on Defence boards, in line with Australian Government targets, Defence continued its focus on providing board readiness training for women. As at 30 June 2020, Defence boards have 45.9 per cent representation by women, an increase of 1 per cent from last year.

Women in the Australian Defence Force

As at 30 June 2020, the participation rate of women in the permanent ADF reached 19.2 per cent—an increase from 18.6 per cent as at 30 June 2019. In the same period, the number of women serving in the ADF increased by 526, with 15 more women in senior officer positions.

Service-specific initiatives provide mentoring, sponsorship and leadership development opportunities for women:

  • The Navy Women’s Development Program 2019–21 is designed to empower Navy’s female workforce through initiatives to support the Service-mandated target of 25 per cent female participation rate by 2023. Under this program the Navy Women’s Mentoring Program has been established, along with Navy Women’s Mentoring and Networking Forums. The Navy Women’s Development Program has sponsored more than 100 Navy women to take part in professional development courses provided through Women and Leadership Australia and has secured Navy representation at numerous women in leadership summits and symposiums around the country. The Navy Women’s Mentoring Program continues its sponsorship of The Future Through Collaboration women in engineering mentor/mentee program and is working with Navy Engineering on initiatives to increase female representation in STEM.
  • Army provides a range of professional development activities designed to improve leadership, resilience and mentoring. Current programs include sponsorship of The Future Through Collaboration; Great Leaders Are Made; Chief Executive Women’s Leaders Program groups and executive coaching; and the Army Industry and Corporate Development Program. Army is committed to the successful integration of women into combat roles, and to ensuring they have positive, viable careers. In 2019 Army commenced a program of work to review and adjust the force generation and sustainment of women in combat roles.
  • Air Force sponsored women to attend and participate in various internal and external conferences and events. These include The Future Through Collaboration; Women Speaking, a public-speaking development program; the Women’s Integrated Networking Group, a facilitated program providing professional development and networking opportunities for all Air Force women; the Leadership Exchange Program, a professional development forum to enhance leadership effectiveness and share ideas and experiences with other Air Force members from different ranks and occupations; and the Australian Women Pilots’ Association Grant, providing two scholarships annually to support women pilots to further their career and enhance their skills.

Women in the Australian Public Service

As at 30 June 2020, the participation rate of women in the Defence APS reached 45.4 per cent—an increase from 44.3 per cent as at 30 June 2019. In this period, the proportion of women in Executive Level positions increased from 33.8 per cent to 35.7 per cent. There has also been an improvement in the proportion of women in Senior Executive Service (SES) positions, increasing from 37.9 per cent to 42.2 per cent.

Defence has implemented a number of gender equality initiatives, including mentoring opportunities for women designed to enable talented female professionals to build their career resilience and develop their leadership skills through group coaching and peer mentoring.

Defence offers a wide range of leadership programs to all of its APS employees. These include the Mentoring Circles for Women, Gateway, Catalyst, Leading for Reform and Capstone programs.

One Defence mandate for Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security

This is a photo of Australian Army soldier Signaller Tara Knight talking to students during a tree-planting ceremony held at the local Parndana school on Kangaroo Island. The tree was planted on behalf of all ADF personnel who served on Kangaroo Island on Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 2019–2020.
Australian Army soldier Signaller Tara Knight talks to students during a tree-planting ceremony held at the local Parndana school on Kangaroo Island. The tree was planted on behalf of all ADF personnel who served on Kangaroo Island on Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 2019–2020.

In 2000 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), formally recognising the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls and the importance of full participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution, peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction.

The Australian Government is committed to achieving the aims of UNSCR 1325, and its roadmap for implementing the Women, Peace and Security agenda is the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. The first national action plan ended in 2019 and the government is currently developing the second national action plan, which will operate until 2029.

Defence’s Gender, Peace and Security Mandate, a high priority for the Minister for Defence, sets out our approach to implementing the priorities of the national action plan. The mandate focuses on six lines of effort:

  • putting strategic settings in place through policy and doctrine
  • training a broad pool of people across the organisation and job functions
  • ensuring we have dedicated personnel for implementing this agenda
  • achieving a state of mission readiness through deploying Gender Advisors on operations and exercises
  • supporting international partner capability-building
  • developing a robust governance and reporting framework to ensure Defence is meeting its UNSCR 1325 obligations.

Australia is proactively taking opportunities to deliver on and raise the profile of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. In May 2020, Defence contributed US$1 million to the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations. The Elsie Initiative, named after Canadian women’s rights pioneer Elsie MacGill, works to identify and overcome obstacles to women’s meaningful participation in peace and security.

In 2021 the Chief of the Defence Force will host an international conference to celebrate the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 and promote meaningful exchanges to progress the agenda.

Defence will continue to champion the global agenda in regional and bilateral forums and be a positive example of how to progress the agenda beyond rhetoric.

Indigenous participation and engagement

Defence’s commitment to Closing the Gap is outlined in the Defence Reconciliation Action Plan 2019–2022—the plan’s fourth iteration—which was officially launched by the Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force in August 2019.

The Reconciliation Action Plan contains 61 targeted actions to support Indigenous recruitment and retention, community engagement and Indigenous businesses. It sets Indigenous representation targets of 5 per cent by 2025 for the ADF and 3 per cent by 2022 for the APS.

Defence continues to prioritise employment opportunities through targeted cadetships, traineeships, graduate placements, affirmative measures recruitment activities, and initiatives to increase Indigenous representation at higher levels of the organisation through career development and progression.

In December 2019, Defence completed a nationwide affirmative measures recruitment activity, with around 150 Indigenous Australians interviewed for positions across the APS 5, APS 6 and EL 1 classifications. More than 100 of these applicants were found suitable and placed on an order of merit list, and approximately 15 engagements, 28 promotions and three transfers were achieved.

Defence employs a variety of initiatives for Indigenous Australians to develop professional and personal skills and to obtain exposure to a career in the Navy, Army or Air Force. These include:

  • the Defence Work Experience Program, which attracts talent through community engagement activities, work experience opportunities and partnering with Indigenous organisations to focus on improving future outcomes for Indigenous youth
    –In 2019–20 the Defence Work Experience Program hosted 437 Indigenous students across Australia, including through the RAAF Indigenous Youth Program and Army’s flagship Indigenous program, Exercise First Look
  • the Navy and Army Indigenous Development Programs, which provide language, literacy, and numeracy training; military skills; physical fitness; vocational education and training, cultural appreciation; leadership and character development. These six-month programs are conducted in Cairns (QLD), Darwin (NT) and Kapooka (NSW). During 2019–20:
    –37 people participated in the Navy Indigenous Development Program
    –105 people participated in the Army Indigenous Development Program
  • the Air Force Indigenous Recruitment Pathway, which provides a range of flexible recruitment pathways including education and mentoring programs supported by TAFE courses, tertiary bridging initiatives and undergraduate study programs
    –During 2019–20, approximately 100 people participated in the flexible recruitment pathways, and 30 people have since enlisted. These programs have a follow-on recruitment effect as participants return to their communities and promote Defence
    –Although a large percentage of participants do not decide to join immediately following the program, many return to follow up on their career aspirations. These programs are critical to Air Force’s long-term plan to continue to improve its standing as an employer of choice within Indigenous communities
  • the Indigenous ADF Pre-Recruit Program, which is aimed at Indigenous Australians who meet the general entry medical, education and aptitude recruiting standards but need to develop their confidence, resilience and/or physical fitness to enable them to succeed during recruitment and initial training. This six-week program is conducted at Kapooka (NSW) and Wagga Wagga (NSW)
    –Participation in the Pre-Recruit Program in 2019–20 comprised 16 people for Navy, 25 people for Army and 11 people for Air Force.

​Overall, Indigenous representation among APS employees decreased slightly from 2.4 per cent on 1 July 2019 to 2.3 per cent on 30 June 2020. The permanent ADF Indigenous workforce increased from 3.1 per cent on 1 July 2019 to 3.2 per cent on 30 June 2020 and is currently exceeding the Australian Government target of 2.7 per cent (see Table 6.1).

Table 6.1: Indigenous participation

30 June 20191

30 June 2020


% of total


% of total























Air Force











Total ADF











Total APS2






Data for this table is reliant on self-identification on the Defence human resources system; therefore the data is likely to under-report actual participation rates. Data for 2018–19 does not match the data provided in the Defence Annual Report 2018–19, due to retrospective transactions.

  1. Reserves include all members (Service Categories 5, 4 and 3) and Reserves undertaking continuous full-time service (Service Option C).
  2. Figures include paid, unpaid, full-time, part-time, ongoing and non-ongoing employees.

The ADF’s outreach includes the Air Force Return to Community initiative, which supports Indigenous members to return to their community for a period of time to use their ADF skills and experience. Army has continued the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program, a joint initiative with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet aiming to improve environmental health and living conditions in remote Indigenous communities through the delivery of housing, infrastructure and essential services.

Defence personnel 'leave their mark' in act of reconciliation

This is a photo or Acting Director Indigenous Affairs Shane Hind, Defence Indigenous Cultural Advisor Norman Laing, First Assistant Secretary People Policy and Culture Pat Hetherington, the Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell, Deputy Secretary Defence People Justine Greig, Secretary of Defence Greg Moriarty and Defence Indigenous Champion Steve Grzeskowiak after 'leaving their mark’ on the 2020 National Reconciliation Week artwork at Russell Offices, Canberra on 29 May 2020.
Acting Director Indigenous Affairs Shane Hind, Defence Indigenous Cultural Advisor Norman Laing, First Assistant Secretary People Policy and Culture Pat Hetherington, the Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell, Deputy Secretary Defence People Justine Greig, Secretary of Defence Greg Moriarty and Defence Indigenous Champion Steve Grzeskowiak after 'leaving their mark’ on the 2020 National Reconciliation Week artwork at Russell Offices, Canberra on 29 May 2020.
Defence is leading from the top to strengthen the cultural intelligence of our workforce. As part of that commitment, in August 2019 Defence launched its fourth Defence Reconciliation Action Plan. The Defence Reconciliation Action Plan 2019–2022 outlines our approach to reconciliation and ‘Closing the Gap’. It prescribes 61 targeted actions to improve socio-economic outcomes for Indigenous Australians, focusing on key priority areas of recruitment, retention, career development and cultural intelligence.

Defence encourages all levels of the organisation to participate in dates of significance as a way
to recognise and respect Indigenous history and culture. For example, every year we mark National Reconciliation Week (NRW) through activities to celebrate Indigenous culture and promote reconciliation in Australia.

This year’s NRW took place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the restrictions in place, Defence took an innovative approach by creating a range of virtual activities to capture the NRW 2020 theme ‘In This Together’.

Defence officially launched NRW with a symbolic ‘leave your mark’ art activity in which Defence personnel demonstrated their commitment to reconciliation by marking their fingerprints on a canvas. The Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force were the first to place their fingerprints on the artwork, followed by the Defence Senior Leadership Group. The activity was then opened to all Canberra-based personnel. The completed artwork illustrates Defence’s unique reconciliation journey, encompassing Navy, Army, Air Force and the Australian Public Service.

Indigenous artist and Directorate of Indigenous Affairs employee Kate Weber designed the NRW artwork, which has cultural meaning as well as representing Defence’s journey of reconciliation. With strong ties to Navy through her family’s service, Kate was particularly proud when the Chief of Navy left his fingerprint.

We are creating a more inclusive organisation and strengthening our professionalism, accountability and leadership at all levels. This approach is aligned to Defence’s overall cultural reform agenda, Pathway to Change: Evolving Defence Culture 2017–2022.

People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

Defence aims to provide an inclusive work environment that respects, values and utilises the contributions of people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Defence is a corporate member of the Diversity Council Australia, an independent not-for-profit peak body leading diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

In 2019–20, Defence continued to offer the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) Cultural Competence Course. The course is a multifaceted program that includes a range of multimedia online clips and additional resources designed to effectively train a large number of employees around cultural awareness. The course is available to all Defence members on Campus and Campus Anywhere.

Of the 251 candidates recruited for the 2020 Defence Graduate Program, 35 percent of graduates indicated they either spoke or wrote a second language (other than English). Collectively, the cohort has a proficiency in 34 languages including Cantonese, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

Defence capability is reliant on Defence’s capacity to attract and retain the best possible talent regardless of gender, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. Defence is committed to maintaining a safe and inclusive workforce where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) members can openly contribute to Defence capability.

Defence is a foundation member of Pride in Diversity, Australia’s first and only national not-for-profit employer support program for all aspects of LGBTI workplace inclusion. As part of our Pride in Diversity membership we hold regular training sessions throughout the year which aim to promote LGBTI inclusion across our organisation and provide information and support to Defence personnel who wish to actively support their LGBTI colleagues.

People with disability

Defence has been recognised for excellence in disability employment initiatives and programs in the workplace and for inclusion in public sector employment. We have been awarded Gold membership status by the Australian Network on Disability, a not-for-profit organisation resourced by its members to advance the inclusion of people with disability in all aspects of business.

Defence continues to enhance capability and build positive and sustainable employment through a number of disability employment programs. In 2019–20 these included:

  • the Inclusive Employment Program, which currently employs 19 people with intellectual disability at the APS 1 and APS 2 levels
  • the Defence Administrative Assistance Program, which supported employment of people with a disability in 10 Defence locations across Australia, through partnership with Australian Disability Enterprises
  • Defence support for the Dandelion Program, run in partnership with DXC Technology Australia, which builds information technology skills and careers for people with autism spectrum condition.

Defence's client-centric approach to supporting people with disability and their managers includes:

  • workplace adjustments and assistive technology to eliminate workplace barriers
  • participation in the Australian Public Service Commission’s Disability Awareness training course, which is specifically designed to build confidence in staff who supervise people with disability
  • a dedicated Accessibility Hub which provides employees with disability, ill health or injury and their managers with information on creating a flexible and inclusive work environment.

Disability reporting mechanisms

Defence’s disability reporting mechanisms include both anonymous survey-based data capture and self-identified human resources reporting.

Official data shows that the percentage of Defence APS employees who have identified as having a disability is at 3.3 per cent (a slight reduction from 3.5 per cent in 2018–19) and the proportion of Defence APS employees with a disability or a chronic medical condition (reported through the last Defence census) is at 19 per cent (a reduction from 20 per cent in 2018–19).

Defence is committed to building capability through inclusion, as articulated in Pathway to Change 2017–2022, and continues its focus on removing barriers for people with disability or chronic illness. This includes strategies to address stigma in the workplace, which should increase the willingness of individuals to share information regarding their disability.