The social well-being of women officers who have left the New Zealand Army : "I haven't seen any advantages to being female" : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, School of Management, Massey Business School, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Society is recognising the benefits of gender diversity in leadership teams and considerable research exists to support this (Boulton, 2017; Buckingham, 2014; Egnell, 2013; Escobar, 2013; Hoogendoorn, Oosterbeek, & van Praag, 2013; Hunt, Layton, & Prince, 2014; MOD, 2014; Morenzo-Gomez, Lafuente, & Vaillant, 2018; Parsons, 2018). Sexual harassment and bullying is at the forefront of many conversations worldwide, following in particular, the #metoo movement. The NZ Army and the wider NZ Defence Force is no exception, and has come under fire in recent years for it treatment of women (Lawrence, 2018a, 2018b; Livingston, 2017; RadioNZ, 2018; Weekes, 2016). Despite the NZ Army lifting all gender related restrictions in 2000, the proportion of women has remained stagnant at around 13% (Parsons, 2018; Weekes, 2002) for the past two decades.
This research examines the social well-being of women officers who have left the NZ Army. A case study approach was used, utilising three forms of data; NZ Army recruiting video advertisements, insider research as I am a member of this group, and interviews with 20 ex-serving women officers. The research is framed with the theoretical concept of social well-being (Keyes, 1998) and this is integrated with the theoretical concepts of authentic leadership and embodied leadership.
It was found that recruiting material used during the 1990s and 2000s focused on men. Men were consistently observed doing more physical and command related tasks compared to women. While all of the interviewed women spoke positively about their overall experience in the NZ Army and were all thankful for the opportunities and training received, a number of challenges were identified and discussed. Many of the women officers experienced or observed harassment and gender discrimination. The women identified that the NZ Army trains and forces its leaders to adopt a masculine approach to leadership. In contrast, almost all of the women interviewed conceptualised and exercised leadership in a more feminine manner. Conflict existed, as the women’s feminine approaches were not always valued. This reduced their social well-being and many of the women felt pressured to be more masculine, and therefore, lead in a manner that was less authentic to them. Women officers were judged on their physical appearance which includes their dress and grooming and their physique. Physical performance had an even bigger impact on their social well-being as the NZ Army appears to be very unforgiving of people with low levels of physical performance. This was a particular issue for women with injuries and women struggling with their fitness following the return from maternity leave.
All of these findings provide significant evidence to suggest that the NZ Army does not provide an environment that generates social well-being for women officers. This leads to many women officers being worn down and eventually leaving, and therefore does not support the NZ Army’s desire to recruit and retain more women, continuing to limit diversity at the senior level. Recommendations to the NZ Army include: broader representation of women in recruiting advertisements, safer channels for making complaints, a review of the masculine leadership approaches taught at training establishments, introduction of camouflage uniform that fit women’s bodies, and better integration back to physical activities following maternity leave.