RCN promotes gender inclusiveness in West Africa

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By Lieutenant (Navy) Linda Coleman

Equal gender representation at the leadership level is not always easy to come by in any organization, but the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) is paving the way and proving that it’s possible.

“Between the two ships this year, the Command Teams combined are 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men – a great milestone,” said Lieutenant-Commander Matt Woodburn, Commanding Officer of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Kingston during an International Women’s Day reception in Lagos, Nigeria on March 9, 2018.

HMC Ships Kingston and Summerside are on Operation PROJECTION West Africa – a strategic engagement with regional nations to support capacity building, foster relationships with partner navies, and participate in Exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS 2018.

The Commanding Officer of HMCS Summerside is LCdr Emily Lambert, her Executive Officer is Lt(N) Patricia Corbeil and the Coxswain is Adam Boone. Along with LCdr Woodburn, Kingston’s Executive Officer is Lt(N) Andrea Murray and the Coxswain is Petty Officer 1st Class Sherman Lillington.

The 50/50 representation couldn’t have happened at a better time as the ships conducted port visits along the West African coast in consort with Global Affairs Canada. During the visits, crew participated in seven women’s events aimed at promoting gender inclusiveness and discussions on women working in non-traditional roles – a concept that’s still uncommon in everyday life for the majority of West African women.

From meeting with female influencers in Senegal or Cote d’Ivoire, to holding discussions with high school age girls in Liberia and Nigeria about their aspirations and dreams, male and female RCN members talked openly about their personal experiences of working with women and for women, or being a woman in a non-traditional role.

“My role was much bigger than I thought,” said LCdr Lambert when asked about her thoughts on being at the forefront of many of the women’s events. “Instead of saying ‘just treat me like one of the guys’, I realized that my role was much more important – the role of being a role model and inspiring young women. I’m the seventh female Commanding Officer in the RCN and I’d like to continue to encourage and pave the way for other women at home and abroad.”

It wasn’t just all about the women though. The RCN also wanted to get across that gender inclusiveness is a joint effort. While standing with LCdr Matt Woodburn during a women’s event in Ghana on March 19, LCdr Lambert explained how they support each other. “It’s important that both men and women work together. For women to progress, you need to have support from the men as well. So we must carry on this conversation together.”

“Being a leader is about traits, and they’re traits that are found within any person. I’m talking about traits like teamwork, intelligence, decision-making and problem solving – those aren’t linked to a gender,” said LCdr Woodburn at the same event in Ghana. “Those traits are very much alive within Emily and leaders in the RCN. Develop those traits within yourself, and you can be a leader,” he added to the young women from Ghana who came to listen.

Lt(N) Guillaume Desjardins, the Operations Officer in HMCS Summerside, also participated in many of the women’s events to discuss how he shares household responsibilities with his wife – another uncommon notion in West African culture.

“When I’m deployed, my wife juggles work while also taking care of our child. So when I come home from deployment, it’s my turn to help out around the house by cleaning and cooking,” he explained.

The reaction of many of the young women in the audience included everything from wide eyes to giggling. But that was the whole point of these discussions – to broaden their horizons and raise issues and challenges faced by women in Africa.

As part of Op PROJECTION, the ships visited seven West Africa countries, including Cape Verde, Senegal, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Benin, and Ghana.

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