26 Jan 2013
January 26, 2013

Are Senior Army Women Going Backwards?

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I might be wrong, but I think there may be no female one-star (Brigadier) officers in the mainstream British Army today.  That compares with at least three, and often more, in the very recent past.

When The Women’s Royal Army Corps was disbanded a decade ago in favour of ‘maintstreaming’ women, several guaranteed Brigadier posts went too.  Women henceforth had to compete with men for any one-star posts in the offing.  But the criteria for promotion from Full Colonel was never changed properly to reflect this change – with the effect that, for a decade, women have been going backwards in the Army, with the glass ceiling actually reduced in height.

This was an unintended consequence of a well-intentioned policy. But it’s become ridiculous, and I’ve never read a single Defence journalist refer to this phenomenon.  The simple fix is to remove those aspects of the current promotion criteria which are irrelevant, and let the enormously capable women who are presently stuck at Full Colonel finally compete fairly with men. That isn’t a platitude.  The army’s full of brilliant people and many of them are women. I know some of them.

David Cameron and Phil Hammond could personally ensure that we have Britain’s first ever female Major General.  They’d simply need to  ensure promotion criteria doesn’t mitigate against it – for many ‘two-star’ jobs, ‘teeth arms’ (Infantry, Tankies, Gunners, etc) Brigade Command experience is irrelevant.

Cameron and Hammond have to decide on a new Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of The General Staff (The Army) in the next few weeks.  very senior officers – and  I have a good sense of how these very decent people think – have no difficulty in principle with the issue.  Those opposed lie elsewhere.  The fact is that if the prime minister and the Defence Secretary have a strong view, senior officers will do the right thing.

Will  it all happen?  Let’s see.