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Retention And Recruitment Of Women In The Defence Forces - TNS mrbi report
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Research intended to identify areas where action can be taken to maximise the number of women applicants to the Defence Forces, hence increasing the number enlisting. In addition, areas to be addressed for retention were also to be harnessed. This report was carried out by TNS mrbi. The full report is available as a Powerpoint Presentation

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Table of Contents - Summary Document
2Research Methodology4Conclusions


This research was intended to identify areas where action can be taken to maximise the number of women applicants to the Defence Forces, hence increasing the number enlisting. In addition, areas to be addressed for retention were also to be harnessed. More specifically the research aimed to:

Identify barriers for women to joining the Defence Forces, at both a functional and emotive level.

Assessment of awareness and perceptions of the Defence Forces as a career for women.

Tap into the key motivators for enlistment and retention in the Permanent Defence Forces.

2. Research Methodology

A diagnostic methodology incorporating both qualitative and quantitative approaches was utilised.

2.1. Qualitative Phase
The qualitative research approach encompassed a series of 28 in-depth interviews with key informants, including women currently in the Defence Forces (10), ex-members of the Defence Forces (3), school leavers (4), parents of school leavers (4), career guidance councillors (5), and representatives of the National Women’s Council and the National Centre for Guidance in Education.

Fieldwork was conducted from September to November 2006. Interviews were taped, transcribed and then analysed for factual and discursive content. In the interests of protecting the anonymity of our respondents, direct quotations are identified only by rank or career.

2.2. Quantitative Phase
Two quantitative phases were undertaken, namely:

(i) National survey of 522 females aged 15+

(ii) Survey of serving female PDF members

The national telephone survey of females aged 15+ was conducted via TNS mrbi’s national omnibus survey, PhoneBus®. This survey was conducted via telephone and is fully representative of the population. Quota controls are imposed for gender, age, socio-economic class and region. Fieldwork was conducted from 17th – 26th October 2006.

The survey of all serving female PDF members was conducted between November 2006 and January 2007 via a self-completion questionnaire. 188 responses were received in total (a 36% response rate). The data was weighted by rank and location to reflect the population of serving females in the PDF.

3. Findings

3.1 Familiarity and Perceptions of the PDF (Female public, school leavers and career guidance councillors)
Young people are placing less emphasis on careers for life given the full employment circumstances. Transferability of skills is important to aid career/job switching. In addition, the majority of students also desire a certain standard of social life outside of work. Many young people demand the wealth and the trappings accompanying a college education. The career versus family debate lurks in the back of female minds sub-consciously. The latter also places more “maternal” careers high on the list for females, such as nursing, physiotherapy, teaching, etc.

The level of general familiarity with the PDF amongst the public was low, due largely to the fact that the public tend to have little contact with the Defence Forces. It is important to note that those living near a Military Base were more familiar with the PDF.

Many respondents associate the PDF solely with the army. While ignorance exists regarding the exact day-to-day roles in the army, perceptually the public feels more familiar with the Army compared to Navy and Air Corp. The Army benefits from higher visibility than other military services. It appears more open & accessible to the public due to land-based nature of the service. The Navy is associated with more specialised skills than other military services, which are less transferable outside of a Navy career. Nevertheless, a naval career was considered to be particularly demanding because of the long periods of time spent at sea. Also a simple fear of water and the sea existed for many students. The Air Corps carries with it an image of prestige, elitism and exclusivity. Recruits are perceived to be of a higher educational standard than most, due largely to the skill level required to become a pilots. Skills learnt in this area were believed to be highly specialised. Entering as enlisted personnel was perceived to be the lowest rung on the PDF ladder and assumed to offer less valuable training than being offered a cadetship.

The Irish Defence Forces is perceived to focus primarily on peacekeeping, helping to safeguard Ireland and provide assistance in key troublespots. Appreciation exists of the positive role women can have in peacekeeping situations. It appears that the PDF’s involvement in the more challenging Chapter Seven enforcement missions has not yet seeped through to the public’s psyche.

3.2 Perceived Challenges To Joining The PDF (Female public, school leavers and career guidance councillors)
For female members of the general public, the downsides to life in the PDF include:

Perceived aggressive, masculine environment and regimented lifestyle. In addition, there is a widespread perception that bullying still exists within the organisation.

Physical nature of the job

Perception of being poorly paid

Perceived unsociable nature of the PDF

Doubts over career prospects and transferability of skills

Perception that women would have to work harder (both physically and mentally) than men to be accepted

Social stigma attached to the job, i.e., women are perceived to be in the minority in the Defence Force

Not associated with being family friendly

The level of commitment involved

In addition, a lack of knowledge exists amongst females of the entry requirement and the day-to-day duties of the PDF members. The main gatekeepers to females can pose barriers, namely, parents and career guidance councillors. Parents are key gatekeepers to their daughters’ careers and are currently dubious of the PDF as a career for their children, preferring in the main that they pursue a college education or at least learn a trade, rather than enlist. In terms of career guidance councillors, undoubted there are those who actively promote the PDF as a career to female students, however those are mainly in military areas. In non-military areas, the level of proactivity in terms of promoting the PDF as a career to females is less. Indeed the level of knowledge regarding the PDF for females amongst career councillors in non-military areas is substantially less.
The media representation of women in the PDF does not aid female recruitment. The general public (females) are heavily influenced by the media, which is felt to present females in military as: tomboys, strong, masculine, a distraction or indeed as sexual objects.

3.3 Perceived Attractions of a PDF Career (For Female School Leavers)
It should be noted that what attracts some females can also be barriers for others.

The Defence Forces was appealing to a proportion of young women because it was perceived to be:

Exciting (the active nature combined with the equipment and uniforms, etc.), adventurous and hands-on

An atypical career (not a 9 to 5 job)

A tight knit community of colleagues with a sense of camaraderie.

A permanent career

High status (particularly the higher ranks)

Indicative of a sense of national pride

3.4 Womens Experience in the PDF

Currently, three-quarters of serving females agree that the Defence Forces is a good place to work. Indeed, four in five of those serving less than five years feel their PDF career has met or exceeded expectations. New recruits are the most likely to recommend the Defence Forces to suitable female family and friends. However, more long-term members are not as satisfied, with almost half of those believing it has fallen short of their expectations. Thus, some areas do require attention.

Some uncertainty exists regarding whether the Defence Forces are changing for the better, with one third unsure, and 29% disagreeing. Less positive reaction to change emanates from NCOs/officers/cadets, those enlisted for over six years and those with children.

On a positive note, the friendships and camaraderie developed in the Defence Forces were listed spontaneously by 42% as the most liked aspect of a PDF career, particularly among officers and the younger, newer recruits. A career in the PDF fares well in terms of job enjoyment, security and variety of work. Training is generally well received as being relevant to their needs. In addition, satisfaction is high with pay and other benefits.

Members’ day-to-day roles and duties were enjoyed in the main; however, there is some evidence, especially amongst ex-PDF members, that the role of enlisted personnel was too mundane (e.g., duties such as cleaning in particular highlighted in this regard). Indeed, 29% of serving female members neither agree nor disagree that they have a “sense they are doing something important”.

A number of key issues emerged which require attention. Sexism/harassment was spontaneously mentioned by 11% of serving members as an aspect of their PDF career which they disliked. 8% mentioned bullying specifically on a spontaneous level. Furthermore, a proportion agree when prompted that they had been bullied or harassed at work in the last year. The proportion is slightly high relative to other careers; in other such employee surveys, the average for experiencing bullying tends to be approximately one in ten. Qualitative discussions with serving members indicated that the PDF have improved somewhat in this regard.

Some members mentioned they were reluctant to report bullying to their superiors or make use of the structures put in place by the PDF as they did not want to deal with the repercussions. Some felt that they had experienced differential treatment from their superiors after reporting misconduct. Attempts to combat bullying in the open appear to have been more successful, however, bullying on a one-to-one basis is still evident, though largely unseen.

Some negativity was also expressed amongst female members regarding the merit of promotion, and the equal chance to progress compared to colleagues.

NCOs were the least satisfied rank with their working situation in the Defence Forces and the least likely to recommend the Defence Forces to suitable female friends or family. They were concerned about long, anti-social hours, family policies, pay and other benefits. NCOs were more likely than other ranks to agree that the DF is a lonely place to work. This group considered the selection process for promotions to be unfair and also felt least secure in their roles. Over half of NCOs stated that their PDF career had not met their expectations.

Another key issue is the fit of raising a family with life in the PDF. Understandably, parents and those females in a relationship saw family friendly policies as more important than other serving members.

To a certain extent, the PDF is perceived as a progressive employer that endeavours to facilitate employees’ needs. For example, from the qualitative discussions, members mentioned that the PDF is:

Continuously seen as updating the internal directive on interpersonal relationships.

Offering a ‘Family Friendly Policy’, which endeavours to cater for mothers’ needs. This policy offers maternity leave, term time and medical care (support).

Term time was well received amongst female members, with many spending summer holidays with their children utilising this policy. They also enjoyed the even spread of pay each month.

However, only a third of these respondents expressed satisfaction with the PDF’s Family Friendly Policy overall. The greatest difficulty perceived was mandatory overseas service.

Indeed, two-thirds find/would find it difficult to raise a family in the Defence Forces. This figure is high among parents and non-parents alike, which indicates a key area for attention.

Selection for overseas duty and time away from family were spontaneously mentioned as the most dislikeable aspects of a PDF career and the most likely prompts to leave the PDF. Those without children were twice as likely to see overseas travel opportunities as a likeable aspect of the job. The latter indicates that while overseas travel/UN work can be an attractive proposition, it can be a retention barrier. It was widely held that the prospect would put pressure on women to decide between their career and their family.

Half of the respondents with families of their own felt that their military career had fallen short of their expectations; amongst those without children, this figure is only one third. Parents were also least likely to agree that the Defence Forces is changing for the better.

While improvements in family friendly policies within a military ethos could aid retention, they were not necessarily the defining attraction to the Forces (rather, they are part of the overall mix).

3.5 Prompts to Join

History of military tradition in families is an influence. Four in five serving females had family or friends in the Defence Forces. The majority of these were familiar with the “military way of life” in comparison to their mainstream counterparts.

Those living in military areas also were prompted to join by local traditions and knowledge. The visibility of the military is also significant and sight of the PDF is important on an emotive as well as practical level. Note the Gardaí benefits from the high visibility of the organisation. Indeed the Gardaí is a competing career for the hearts and minds of potential PDF female recruits.

For current serving members, the idea of a Defence Forces career in general was one of the initial attractions to join (i.e., the sense of prestige and status; the active, exciting lifestyle; the sense that it is not an ordinary job).

Recruitment strategies undertaken by the Defence Forces were widely cited as being impactful. Elements recalled as being influencing included:

School visits by PDF members and school tours of military installations

Impactful stands and stalls at careers fairs (e.g., Higher Options, Cork Careers Open Day, etc.)

“A Life Less Ordinary” campaign and website

Certainly, the breadth and scope of the above areas can be expanded and improved upon in the future, specifically:

Increased female presence in communications

More information on day-to-day duties and on different services (i.e. Army vs. Navy vs. Air Corp).

Illustrate the transferability of skills which can be learnt

The importance of winning over parents should not be forgotten. Also, more attention on career guidance councillors, particularly in non-military areas could prove fruitful.


4.1 The Appeal of a PDF Career
Enlistment in the Permanent Defence Forces is increasingly at odds with the career ambitions of today’s young women, who value flexible, low-commitment life paths over permanent jobs. A career in the Defence Forces is attractive to a particular type of young person. However, It has less appeal to the mainstream of female school leavers for the following reasons:

Masculine career image

Overly physical/dangerous

Perception of bullying

Perceived to be somewhat lower paid versus other careers (note we have become a very materialistic society)

Seen as a life rather than a career

Felt to offer a poor social life

Not seen to fit with raising a family

Uncertainty regarding career prospects and transferability of skills

General lack of knowledge of roles and duties.

Nevertheless, the Defence Forces occupies a unique space in the minds of the public. It is attractive to a certain segment who appreciate that it is, adventurous, physical, and outdoors-based and not a traditional 9 to 5 job. It also has a maternal caring side which is not widely publicised, which appeals to females. The cadet route is particularly attractive as it is seen to offer the opportunity to learn valuable skills. The main prompts to join were a family tradition of Defence Force membership and familiarity with the military way of life. This visibility of the PDF in certain areas also impacted. The role of the Defence Forces recruitment strategy should also not be understated.

4.2 Experiences of Women in the PDF

Members of the PDF tended to have a more positive impression of the career than the public at large. Indeed, three-quarters of serving of serving females agreed that the Defence Forces is a good place to work. They emphasised social bonding among personnel, transferability of skills and the status afforded to the career.

Positives such as job security, enjoyment, variety, pay and training were registered.

Raising a family within the Defence Forces was acknowledged to be a difficult task, especially when mandatory overseas duty is a prospect. Even those without children of their own recognised the difficulties involved.

Parents were less than satisfied with the Family Friendly Policies in place.

Respondents who were married/living as married or with children were more likely to report that their career in the PDF has fallen short of their expectations.

Issues around bullying/harassment still evident despite progress being made in this area.

Concerns also existed around the merit of promotions and the equal chance to progress compared to colleagues.

NCOs emerged as having more negative views.


5.1 Attracting Females

The PDF needs to leverage key elements which can tap into the female youth today. The following elements should be leveraged: excitement (via equipment etc.), prestige and status (almost elitism) sense of national pride, skills which can be learnt/education, sense of importance of the role, and peacekeeping role.

The PDF must address more negative perceptions; pay, harsh, dangerous, bullying, lack of sociability, and more masculine image.

Women need role models, heroes in the PDF. The brand needs to build a presence of females (a dual gender identity) and give the exposure via ads, website, school visits, career fairs, online videos etc. In addition the PDF should embrace new forms of communication: websites/online, youth magazines, etc.

Visits to military installations to be increased, with perhaps a role existing for transition year work experience in the military.

Education of career guidance councillors, with supporting materials, especially outside military areas is required. Information needs to centre on entry criteria, day-to-day roles, women’s roles and women’s perspectives

Greater potential exists for the RDF if marketed enthusiastically, akin to the Territorials in the UK. This could also be another potential route for encouraging more female enlistment.

5.2 Retaining Females

Greater understanding of family commitments needed (especially regarding overseas duty). Childcare assistance should be explored. In addition, the availability of maternity outfits where needed should be ensured.

Actively promote a dual gender image of the PDF, rather than the perceived more masculine image currently.

Continue to tackle any bullying or harassment.

Continue the revision of the promotion policy and ensure that promotions are open to all ranks and genders.

Potential exists to assess the policy of sign up to a five-year contract (perceived by some female members as too long-term and unrealistic).

Finally, female role models/heroes need to be developed within the Defence Forces. Perhaps the various positions and ranks which females have achieved can form part of the PDF’s communication.

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