Monday, October 22, 2018

Diversity and Gender: Catching Up with the Armed Forces and Society Folks

As I have blogged here on occasion, I have been working with a team of sharp folks to build the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  The latest grant effort is due this week, so the timing of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society-Canada could not be better timed.  The IUS-C is a partner of the CDSN, so I not only interested in their stuff, but semi-obligated.  I learned a great deal, and it made me feel pretty great about what we are trying to do.

The IUS, US version or Canadian version, is a multidisciplinary group of scholars from both civilian and military universities and research centres that focus on the relationships between militaries and their societies.  Armed Forces and Society is the journal that is attached to this organization, and is the leading journal that is focused on civil-military relations.  The group is far more inter-disciplinary than damn near any association I have experienced.  This weekend, I was surrounded by sociologists, psychologists, and a variety of others plus a sprinkling of political scientists. 

The theme this year was Diversity for a variety of reasons, but to be clear this meant not just focusing on gender, race, ethnicity and the like but also cognitive diversity (more on that below).  This meant largely focusing on personnel issues--how to recruit, train, and retain a diverse (whatever that means) force.  Given that personnel is one of the five key CDSN themes but perhaps the one that is least familiar to me, this was an excellent way for me to drink from the fire-hose (an expression I learned in the Pentagon) and get a better grasp of what I have been editing (the personnel theme folks wrote the relevant parts of the application). 

So, what did I learn?  First, I found it interesting that the program itself did not mention affiliations, so status hierarchies, which can exist, could not really shape what panels one attends.  I don't know if it was deliberate or not.  Second, I learned that "science advances one funeral at a time" as change happens when the oldest stubborn folks are replaced by younger ones.  Given that I am older than most people in the room, um, swell. 

Third, I learned about cognitive diversity.  This is a contested idea, as the speakers were wary about the possibility that folks who want more cognitive diversity might be seen as or actually trying to substitute more different thinking white dudes rather than having more different people (women, people of color) which is what we usually think.  Cognitive diversity seemed to mean actually people who think differently, which is a challenge for organizations that want everyone on the same page.  But there seem to be benefits for having some people be more risk acceptant, some to think outside of the box, more "Enders" as one put it, referencing Ender's Game.  Lots of pushback from the military as they don't want too much questioning of orders.  But how to do you get good strategists? Probably not by having everybody think the same.  How do you get change?  Ditto.  One way to focus on diversity of thought and diversity of people is that people with different lived experiences are likely to think differently, so seeking people who think differently need not be a way to dodge making the force look more like Canada.  And, of course, my self-centered take on cognitive diversity is that if the military is not great at fostering people thinking differently, maybe they can hang out with those who are trained to think differently and inclined to do so--the shaggy academics. That is, a partnership with academics, such as the CDSN, may not be a solution to the problem of cognitive diversity in the CAF, but it can be a way to ameliorate the problem.

Fourth, via a panel on integrating gender perspectives into defence and security, I got a better grasp of what has been going on over the past couple of decades--what the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 means, what is the Women, Peace and Security agenda is and what are GENADS (gender advisors) and other new roles in the military.  Given that our grant application needed better citation of this stuff, it was great that my RA happened to be at this panel.  Also, since I just included a week on gender and civ-mil for the first time, it was nice to see how the latest stuff fed off of and reacted to some of the stuff I had talked about in class last week.  One consistent them--GBA+ means not gender-based analysis but much attention to other identities/dimensions and heaps of intersectionality.  A good reminder that identity is complex.  A big question is whether progress was actually getting made--lots of division in the room about that.  A trans-gender CAF officer corrected the panel on how they referred to male/female and men/women, and that was most instructive. 

Fifth, military sexual trauma is something the CAF has a huge problem dealing with--yes, the CAF is trying, but so many aspects of the process are still pretty broken.  For instance, it is the case that at some places, the officers and NCO's responsible for handling reports of sexual harassment are people who engage in sexual harassment.  Not great. There have been some improvements--that it used to be the case that reporting some kind of mental trauma from being sexually assaulted was sufficient grounds to be pushed out of the military--that one was no longer fit to be deployed.  That stopped recently apparently, but talk about retention problems!  If a significant hunk of the women are assaulted and they all get pushed out, then it is not hard to figure out a key problem retaining women. Oh, and the various services and groups for veterans need to be reformed in order to make women and especially those who have survived MST to feel welcome and give them support.

A big move has already taken place--the military used to be gender-blind, thinking that was the best way not to discriminate.  But it is kind of like Stephen Colbert not seeing race. It allows one to ignore all kinds of distinctions and challenges, such as needing different armor for people with hips and breasts that are not the typical male shapes.  

I am reminded when I hear this stuff of many conversations I used to have with my daughter.  I would say there is progress (this is Pre-Trump, obviously), and she would say it was not happening fast enough.  And eventually I would realize she was and is right.  The changes that are happening are not happening fast enough.  And it is not clear if the initiatives of today will endure and be sustained.

On the other hand, I learned a lot and am glad that IUS-C is a partner of the larger CDSN effort.  I have a clearer idea of what our personnel-related projects will be, if we can get funded. And, again, I am reminded that the effort to get money to build a network is actually leading to us folks being better networked. The money would be handy to do stuff, but at least the enterprise is already creating connections and helping to exchange perspectives.  So, woot for #TeamCDSN.

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