The Canadian Armed Forces are embarking on a mission which will see its members enact change within their own organization, rather than in some foreign country or disaster-stricken part of Canada as they may be used to.
This mission, led by Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan, chief of professional conduct and culture, is to enact a “fundamental shift” in how the military manages conduct and culture. The office was created in 2021 as part of the response to a string of public revelations of sexual misconduct, racism, and misogyny in the forces.
“I think the first thing is to understand what problems we are trying to solve, so this first year we were committed, and invested a lot of time, in understanding the problem,” said Carignan. “We consulted with over 12,000 members of the defence team to understand what it is that we are dealing with.”
Carignan emphasizes the mission is one that requires the participation of members of all ranks, and she is taking a top-down, bottom-up, and horizontal approach to the task.
Since taking on the role, she and her team have met with members across the country, including a recent stop in Greater Victoria to meet with the sailors and commanders stationed at CFB Esquimalt to hear directly from them what is working, what needs to be improved, and generally what they feel an ideal workplace culture should look like.
One thing everyone seems to be in agreement on is the importance of developing effective leaders, and Carignan said some changes in leadership training have already been implemented.
“We are hearing that it is important to develop leaders with people skills, at the same time as we are developing their technical competence,” she said. “There is a demand for more skills like how to manage conflicts across cultures, how to best respond to somebody who has been harmed by somebody else’s behaviour … we have already started to take a different approach to selecting and appointing leaders where we now give room for character on top of competency.”
Overall, changes will be made both in the short-term or at the “tactical” level as Carignan puts it, and in the long-term or “strategic” level. Tactical changes include those leadership selection changes and more inclusive and gender-neutral uniform regulation changes introduced earlier this year, while strategic changes aimed at big-picture topics like improving retention and recruitment will require more effort and time to nail down and implement properly.
“It’s important for folks who live our culture every day to see our progress and to see that things are moving in the right direction.”
For many people outside of the forces, one of the most significant culture challenges in the military would certainly be the issues of sexual misconduct, racism, and misogyny, but for Carignan, these topics are more symptoms of workplace dynamics which allow the misconduct to take place.
“This is why it is important to have a good understanding of our misconduct space so we can tackle the culture which allows the misconduct to take place,” she said. “How we deal with complaints, how we deal with reports, is going to be a key going forward and it is a key peice of what we are doing right now.”
Work is already underway to digitize, simplify, and speed up the force’s complaint reporting systems, and a Leadership Support Team headed by Col. Sean French is meeting with commanders across the forces to re-emphasize the importance of addressing affected members and respondents when complaints are filed.
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