THE military will offer women temporary ”try before you buy it” deals to encourage them to take on full combat roles, and replace some exacting physical requirements with more practical tests for both sexes.
Despite months of intensive publicity over the year since Defence announced it would open frontline roles to women, the military says only three have so far expressed interest – all of them as naval mine clearance diver officers.
No army women have sought combat positions and the air force has not had any responses to its call for applicants. The navy is about to issue a call for formal applications from women, who can start from January.
Major-General Gerard Fogarty, the human resources director in charge of the five-year plan to move women into frontline roles, told The Sunday Age the military was looking at innovative ways to encourage women to give such jobs a go.
”Each of the services will have a different approach over the next few years. Some will have a work experience or ‘try it before you buy it’ approach,” he said.
”You want people to taste it. Army is going to do this. Others will watch carefully. You could try it for a few months with no obligation.”
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick last week handed down her landmark report into women in the military, urging targets for women’s recruitment and citing global studies that found a ”critical mass” of women in defence areas was crucial to their acceptance.
But the navy’s women’s strategic adviser, Commander Jennifer Wittwer, said critical mass was ”unachievable in the short term”, so the navy was focusing on trying to get the culture and leadership support right for lone female trailblazers.
Ensuring lone female pioneers were supported – and had a chance to themselves be role models for other women – would require mentoring, networking and strong encouragement from commanding officers, Commander Wittwer said.
The general physical tests for most jobs across the military are also being rewritten as part of the push to move women into more roles.
New specialised tests, designed to ensure people can do the core tasks in more than 150 different jobs, are being developed by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, in conjunction with the University of Wollongong.
And rather than lowering the bar, or setting easier tests for women, they may result in some higher standards for everyone.
The proposed new test for army combat roles, for instance, would replace a basic test of a 2.4-kilometre run, 25 sit-ups and 10 push-ups, with a tougher set of endurance, strength and nimbleness under fire exercises.