Colonel Lisa Noonan in ‘dream job’ as Director Personnel Generation Requirements

Lieutenant-Colonel Lisa Noonan

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By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario —The Canadian Army’s recently promoted Colonel Lisa Noonan brings more than 30 years of military and human resources experience to her position as Director Personnel Generation Requirements (DPGR) for the Canadian Armed Forces.

In this role, based in Ottawa, she will focus on assisting with a variety of personnel initiatives that are highlighted in Strong, Secure, Engaged, Canada’s defence policy that was issued in the spring of 2017. Col Noonan will be strongly involved with Operation GENERATION, which got underway during the summer.

“Operation GENERATION is a new initiative of Military Personnel Command to increase the diversity of the Canadian Armed Forces and bring further enhancements to the recruiting process,” she said. “There is going to be a more concerted effort to meet the CAF’s Employment Equity (EE) goals for Indigenous members, women and visible minorities.”

“We need to take in more people who represent a variety of backgrounds,” Col Noonan said. “And CMPC [Commander Military Personnel Command, Lieutenant-General Charles Lamarre] has been very clear: he wants to increase and improve our diversity in recruiting, but he also wants to recruit more men as well. He’s not trying to exclude men, but to be more representative of our entire Canadian population.”

Col Noonan’s team will be involved with more than just getting new soldiers into uniform.

“We take care of people when they come in through the front door, and then as they progress through their careers, we try to optimize them through educational upgrading, commissioning or occupation transfers,” she explained. “Our Directorate develops all the policies that move people into the CAF and then fosters them throughout their careers, both through our in-service programs and plans but also in terms of ensuring they have properly-structured work as we conduct the Military Employment Structure studies for each occupation.”

In the short term, “I hope to bring a lot of innovation to the way we do business, whether it be working with research organizations to improve or develop new tests, modelling new ways of enhancing the health of our occupations or ways of improving occupational analyses.”

“This is truly a dream job for me as I love the foundational nature of everything we do in DPGR, especially as meaningful and well-structured occupations and careers are so critical to the well-being of our members.”

Valuable experience and knowledge of diversity issues

All of Col Noonan’s experience to date has prepared her well for her new and important challenge, including her personal experience being an army brat, a Reservist and then a Regular Force Logistics officer who deployed overseas before moving to personnel management.

Col Noonan holds an Honours degree in Psychology, a Master’s in Science (Industrial and Organizational Psychology) and has completed the coursework and comprehensive exams for a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She hopes that her level of education and rank will help move some of the yardsticks forward in terms of the new personnel initiatives.

“Both the undergrad and postgrad really look at these issues from a psychological perspective – what causes individual and group discrimination and what you can do in an organization to enhance recruiting and selection, increase retention and so forth,” she said.

“Having a Colonel in the Branch is a really positive thing; it brings a certain educational background and a way of thinking about issues, whether recruiting, diversity, or personnel production. We bring background in education, training and deployment experience to the table. We can think about problems and issues differently and hopefully enhance the whole decision-making process,” she said.

Large personnel plan familiarity

Col Noonan is no newcomer to developing and working on large personnel plans. Since 2015, she has worked on the transfer of Army Reserve recruiting responsibility from Military Personnel Command to the Army, was the section head for the Army Employment Equity, Diversity and Operation HONOUR portfolios, and was the Army’s senior Personnel Selection Officer.

In 2009, she became a section head at the Directorate of Personnel Generation Requirements and then moved to Director General Military Careers where she worked on the replacement of the Canadian Forces Personnel Appraisal System (CFPAS).

As a Lieutenant-Colonel in 2007, she helped develop the CAF Framework for the Care of the Ill and Injured, which resulted in the creation of the Joint Personnel Support Units, commenced the CFPAS replacement and succession planning initiatives and was responsible for a variety of CAF drug program issues such as blind drug testing, the establishment of a drug research program and enhancement of drug awareness training. Prior to that, she led the development of the original CFPAS, which earned her a commendation in 1998.

Early years and deployment as one of first women in combat service support

Col Noonan, who hails from Petawawa, Ontario, started out as a Reserve Logistics officer during her university days and joined the Regular Force in 1987. She was posted to Lahr, Germany and became one of the first three women officers accepted into 4 Service Battalion, serving as Platoon Commander and Quartermaster.

In Germany, she said she had little problem with the men; it was the wives’ club that was not very welcoming. “What did shock me a bit was that whole social piece, I’ll be honest with you. And the rumours! But in terms of the job itself in the Service Battalion and in 4 Brigade, we were accepted after only a short period of adjustment and I think we did well.”

Transfer to Personnel Selection Branch and grim research tasks

After dealing with equipment and supplies in Germany, Col Noonan realized she preferred working with people and personnel issues. She transferred to the Personnel Selection Branch and became a Personnel Selection Officer in 1991.

As one of the first women officers in a combat service support role, and in her work with personnel, Col Noonan has seen troubling things. Although she counts herself lucky to not have been directly targeted, it was difficult to witness.

During the mid- to late-1980s, the CAF piloted the Combat Related Employment for Women (CREW) trials, which included the integration of women into Regular Force Army occupations such as Logistics, Health Services and Signals. Col Noonan was involved in research conducted as women began to be integrated into the combat arms occupations in the mid-1990s.

She explained, “I went out West to do interviews in [Canadian Forces bases] Shilo and Wainwright with some of the women in the battle schools and units. There was assault going on, sexual harassment, personal harassment, and it was brutal, you know? I still feel emotional when I talk about it.”

“So it was a difficult thing, and this organization had not prepared properly and I think they underestimated the resistance that women would face,” said Col Noonan. “I’m amazed we have as many women as we do who stuck with it, because it must have been quite daunting and difficult.”

These experiences have stayed with her, giving her a deep understanding of what the designated groups are up against. Having this foundation of knowledge may provide a step in the right direction, she believes, with regard to Op GENERATION and other personnel tasks.

Improvements to diversity awareness in the CAF

Col Noonan said she believes that more women are proving themselves in the combat arms and gaining respect, and that there are more checks and balances to stop inappropriate forms of behaviour. She cited improvements to the training system and that instructors are now trained in terms of diversity and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

“The female and male students are also better trained and prepared to accept diversity,” she said. “There’s a bit of a generational effect, also, because I find the younger guys are more open to women in the workplace. They’ve been seeing that through school and work now for 20 years, whereas back then it would have been guys in their 50s who were less open to that because they had come up in the early baby boomer generation.”

Another improvement that Col Noonan has noted is that there is less of a drinking subculture which contributed to inappropriate behaviour. “A lot of those incidents happened after drinking at the mess. I think there’s more of an emphasis on fitness and general recreation now and those counterproductive behaviours have lessened. There’s other ways to bond, right?”

Positive changes prove Operation HONOUR is working

Col Noonan has seen many changes in the CAF regarding acceptance of gender, minorities and LGBTQ diversity in her 30 years of service.

“Those early years were really tough. I’m glad that we’ve gotten to a phase of better acceptance. There is still a ways to go, but things are moving along. I’m hoping Operation HONOUR and the good that has come out of it will continue.”

“I see so many glass ceilings being broken – whether it’s the acceptance of women into more non-traditional areas, concerted efforts to provide them with professional development opportunities or placing them in key positions, Col Noonan said.

“This is amazing as I wasn’t sure I would witness such changes during my career. Of course, we have men with amazing potential too so it’s a lot about talent spotting and balancing the needs of great men and women in our organization.”

Raising boys in a climate of greater acceptance of women

Col Noonan is married to Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Johnston, Senior Staff Officer to the Deputy Commander of Health Services Group and they have two sons: Ryan, 18 and Tyler, 14.

Because they are a military couple, they understand each other’s jobs well. “It makes for interesting problem-solving conversations sometimes,” she said.

“In the early years, when we had very young children and no family support due to where we were living, it was tough, but the faith my husband showed in me staying in the military and succeeding kept me going,” said Col Noonan.

“As far as my boys are concerned, we are very close and I hope that I have created in them a greater acceptance of women in the workplace and in the military. They have seen me frustrated occasionally with work situations but I keep going no matter what, so hopefully this has taught them that perseverance and resilience are incredibly important.”

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Image gallery

  • A military family
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Lisa Noonan
  • Captain Lisa Noonan with colleagues
  • Military personnel on exercise
  • Soldier receives commendation

Article / October 30, 2017 / Project number: 17-0256

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