Gone is the “one size fits all” approach: Accommodating women in the military

Members of the Force Protection team conduct a weapons handling drill in Kuwait, during Operation IMPACT on January 18, 2015. Photo: OP Impact, DND GX2015-110-027

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The soldiers, sailors and aviators of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are expected to perform their duties to the best of their abilities. The Department of National Defence (DND) and the leadership of the CAF are responsible to enable these members and ensure that they are equipped with appropriately fitted clothing and equipment regardless of gender.

Too often we hear, “Why can’t they just make something that actually fits us?” Historically, military equipment was not designed for all demographics of Canadian society. This stems from the fact that in the past, not all citizens of Canada were equally employed within the Canadian military, based on multiple factors from height restrictions to gender.

Today, any Canadian citizen can serve in the CAF within any occupation. The CAF recognizes that this increased diversity, through improved numbers of visible minorities and representation of women, not only caused a sub-cultural shift but a necessity to reassess equipment design and requirements for a new, more varied population.

The Directorate of Soldier Systems Program Management (DSSPM) team contributes to the development of products for the military. DSSPM recognizes the CAF’s shift in diversity, and understands the necessity of prioritizing inclusivity for all members.

In 2014, DSSPM created the Human Factors Support Cell (HFSC) to optimize human performance in systems design with a focus on accommodation of the CAF’s increasingly diverse personnel.

By effectively applying human factors considerations in clothing and equipment acquisition, the HFSC has demonstrated that implementing human-centric considerations at the beginning of a project results in improved performance, better quality of life for members, and lifecycle cost savings.

Gone is the “one size fits all” approach when buying clothing and equipment. The HFSC works with client groups, ensuring the inclusion of all CAF members to help understand any unique requirements as well as identify issues with current or new systems.

DSSPM has also developed relationships with internal organizations in order to establish a network of subject matter experts. Work undertaken with the Defence Women’s Advisory Council (DWAO) when updating the Undergarment Brassiere CANFORGEN 134/18 resulted in the removal of previous restrictions, thus allowing all CAF members increased flexibility on garment choice. This helps instill a culture of trust where such issues are recognized and addressed.

Improved communication and collaboration between organizations on issues that affect our CAF members will shape recommendations and decision making process to support diversity.

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