Royal Navy top brass admit leaders have 'not done enough for the women in our service'

THE incoming head of Britain’s military has apologised for how women in the Royal Navy have been treated following a damning report into service culture.

Saturday, 20th November 2021, 2:52 pm

Former First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said the military had failed to value servicewomen and insisted things would change.

The senior naval officer’s comment came in reaction to a shocking report by the House of Commons defence select committee which showed the navy had ‘not done enough for women in our service’.

Admiral Radakin, who later this month will become the nation’s new chief of defence staff - Britain’s top military leader - said the navy had ‘not done enough for the women in our service’, insisting ‘we must and will do better’.

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Sailors from the guard during the commissioning of HMS Prince of Wales. Picture: RN

Adm Radakin addressed the comments in an open letter written after the report was published.

The 56-year-old father-of-four wrote: ‘Firstly, I want to say sorry. The defence sub-committee’s report makes it clear that the Royal Navy has not done enough for the women in our service and I apologise on behalf of the Royal Navy to all the women we have let down.’

The senior officer said the report made for ‘sobering’ reading.

‘The behaviours identified in this report show an organisation which has not properly valued its servicewomen. We are listening and making progress; but we must go further and we must act now,’ he wrote.

Admiral Tony Radakin. Picture: Habibur Rahman

The defence select committee report, titled Protecting Those Who Protect Us: Women in the armed forces from recruitment to civilian life, caused outrage when published earlier this year.

It claimed that one in 10 serving female personnel were interviewed as part of the wide-reaching study.

The document, based on evidence from some 4,000 serving and retired women, found the MoD and services are ‘failing to protect female personnel and to help servicewomen achieve their full potential’.

The findings echoed a similar report, published last month by BMJ Military Health, which found sexual harassment, bullying and physical assault of women is prevalent in the armed forces.

Researchers for this report polled 750 female veterans and discovered a quarter - 22.5 per cent - claimed to have experienced sexual harassment in the military, while 22.7 per cent said they had been subject to emotional bullying.

Worryingly, BMJ’s study also found that five per cent were sexually assaulted and three per cent had been physically assaulted.

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All roles and specialisations in the armed forces are now open to women, with the navy having recently promoted a woman to the rank of Admiral for the first time.

However, the study by the defence select committee, said the armed forces was ‘still a man’s world’, with 60 per cent of serving female military personnel having been subject to bullying, harassment or discrimination.

The inquiry found a ‘lack of faith’ in the complaints system, with two thirds of women not reporting their experiences, while a third of those who did described their experience as ‘extremely poor’.

The report said: ‘When things go wrong, they go dramatically wrong. The systems for responding to unacceptable behaviour are failing our service personnel, both male and female. The service complaints ombudsman has never judged the military’s internal complaints system... as “efficient, effective and fair”.’

Veterans responding in the report told the committee that the culture in some individual units and cap badges could be ‘more exclusive than others’ - resulting in discrimination towards women.

One statement from a respondent, quoted in the report, said: ‘Within the Royal Navy the amount of sexist attitudes, from officers mainly, is appalling. I have often felt the boys club mentality is still very much a thing of today. […] This is to do more so with the individual than the policies which have been put in place.’

Commander Suzy Conway also gave evidence as part of the parliamentary inquiry.

The officer, who was awarded an OBE in November last year for her role leading commanding the Royal Navy’s base in Bahrain, admitted she had ‘probably’ faced discrimination during her 24-year career.

‘Have I faced discrimination? Possibly,’ she wrote. ‘Have I overcome discrimination. Probably. Has it affected who I am or my will to stay in the RN? No.

‘Difficult decisions have had to be made at times, but that is no different from any walk of life.’

She added that she ‘never felt’ her job in the Senior Service had limited her ‘ability to be a mother or have been so restrictive that I felt it necessary to leave’.

‘I will leave with good memories and a positive outlook on my career,’ she said.

In his letter, Adm Radakin promised to work with other military leaders to address points raised in the report.

He added: ‘Every single one of us can do better. Every leader in the Royal Navy, at all levels, has a responsibility to get this right, to adjust their attitudes and behaviour where necessary, and identify where improvements can and must be made within the Royal Navy to step up and drive this.

‘The status quo is not an option.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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