- A.N. Other
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2022 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By LEUT L.M. Dunsmore RAN
Earlier this year this essay was awarded the Naval Historical Society History Prize from candidates of the New Entry Officer Course 65. Publication was withheld while awaiting a complementary article on changes to the Chaplaincy Branch which now appears in this magazine. We asked Laura to provide a resume which many will find interesting.
I am Lieutenant Laura Maree Dunsmore, Maritime Spiritual Wellbeing Officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). I was born and raised in Sydney, NSW before moving to Perth, WA in 2015 to be with my now husband Michael who is an RAN Submariner. Michael and I have been married for four years and have a three-year-old son and two dogs. I enjoy travelling, Latin dancing, horse-riding and all types of music, especially attending live music performances.
My secondary schooling was completed at John Therry Catholic College in NSW and tertiary studies at the University of Sydney, Macquarie University and the NSW Institute of Psychiatry. I was the recipient of the Women and Leadership Australia Scholarship in 2016 which allowed me to complete post-graduate leadership studies and ignited my interest further around women working in fields such as Defence and STEM. I come from a family with a proud service history including my husband who has served fifteen years in the RAN and my late father who was a member of the Australian Army and served in the Vietnam War.
Prior to joining the RAN, I spent sixteen years working in the mental health service as a senior occupational therapist and mental health clinician in a variety of roles in both public health and private practice across both NSW and WA. In my most recent position with South Metropolitan Health Service, I was the Allied Health Lead for Inpatient Mental Health, coordinating delivery of comprehensive and holistic allied health care and leading teams of multidisciplinary clinicians. In December 2021 I joined HMAS Stirling, following completion of the New Entry Officer Course (NEOC) at the Royal Australian Naval College.
There is a clear and exciting symbiosis between my experience as a mental health occupational therapist and the scope of the new Maritime Spiritual Wellbeing Officer (MSWO) role to provide pastoral and spiritual support to RAN members and their families. As one of the first MSWOs in full-time service, I am very much looking forward to the challenge of being at the forefront of establishing this new and dynamic role in the RAN and being part of our increasingly diverse Navy Chaplaincy Branch.
Seas of Change – Integrating Women Aboard Australian Submarines
‘It is all of our responsibility to push the envelope for our daughters and sons so they live in a world where career is determined by passion alone and not gender. We need to honour that commitment and desire.’ McDonald, 2020
Diversity plays an imperative role in our sociocultural world in the community and modern workplace by enhancing our understanding, awareness, wisdom and connectedness. Diverse workplaces also promote creativity and innovation through heightened exchange of a wider range of information, experiences and new ideas, leading to more effective problem solving, a vital component of promoting excellence and cultivating the proficient capabilities of the Profession of Arms.
Within the Australian Defence Force (ADF), the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is unquestionably at the forefront of promoting inclusiveness and diversity. The Department of Defence (2019) reports that the Navy has the highest representation of women in the workforce for the ADF, who are now able to access the full range of duties and roles including aboard submarines.
Aim and Scope
Whilst I concede that little has been written about the naval experiences of Australian women in the past few decades, this essay aims to discuss gender and diversity in the RAN through examination of the example of the successful integration of women aboard Australian submarines and how the lessons learned influenced and continue to impact the RAN today.
I will summarise the history of women serving in the RAN prior to discussing the introduction of women serving aboard submarines, a non-traditional vocational area for Australian women in the Profession of Arms. In order to highlight the success, I will briefly acknowledge the resistance and challenges that were overcome before my discussion around the lessons learned and inevitably shared with allied navies.
This essay seeks to highlight how, despite the unique milieu that is submarine service, the RAN was able to maintain and promote an enduring emphasis on beliefs and practices which value diversity.
Since 1899, women have served in the armed forces in Australia. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Australia women were only permitted to work in the Australian Army Nursing Service (Veterans SA, 2016). In 1941 the RAN established the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS), a service division for women with a distinct focus on support roles. After eighteen years, in 1959 the RAN merged the WRANS into a non-combatant arm of the permanent RAN but the organisation continued to restrict serving women from going to sea.
Over the course of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Australian women were incorporated into the three services but were still unable to serve in combat roles. Soon after in 1983, women were permitted to serve aboard Australian naval ships resulting in the outcome of full integration of WRANS personnel into the RAN and in 1984 the WRANS was permanently dissolved by Act of Parliament (Argirides, 2006).
More recently over the course of the last decade, women serving in the Profession of Arms were allowed to apply for all positions in 2013 with the exception of special forces roles, opening up to women a year later in 2014. Following this, in the year 2016 civilian women in Australia became able to apply directly to enter all vocational roles. According to the Department of Defence (2020), women now comprise approximately 19.2 percent of the armed forces, including around 21.5 percent of the RAN, positively contributing to the capabilities of the Navy whilst serving both at sea and ashore. Of the three services, the RAN has the largest percentage of women serving in its ranks.
In order to appreciate the challenges and successes around the integration of women serving aboard Australian submarines, we need to acknowledge the ways in which successive generations, including the WRANS, pioneered and led the way in circumnavigating and overcoming obstacles around diversity and inclusion, making their contribution and the contributions of all women in the ADF possible.
Submarines have been a proud part of the RAN for more than 100 years. Prior to the outbreak of World War I, the first E class Submarines, AE1 and AE2, joined the fleet in 1914. The contemporary Australian Submarine branch of the RAN was established in 1964 upon receipt of six Scottish-built Oberon class submarines. In 1996, the first Australian built submarine, the diesel-electric Collins class, entered the Navy with six Collins class submarines entering service between 1996 and 2003 (Nepean Naval and Maritime Museum, 2015). Notably, the Collins class is the first Australian submarine to carry female crew.
In 1998 and over a decade ahead of the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK), the RAN became the fourth Navy to permit and support women to serve aboard submarines. In June 1998 the first female submariners began their training at the Submarine Training and Systems Centre in Western Australia and qualified a year later in 1999 (Spurling 2014). The RAN was on the forefront of successful change management and did not shy away from challenging the preconceived idea of the time in the maritime and defence communities that gender integrated submarines would undermine security and create social disruption, crew disharmony and infinite problems.
The initial integration of women into Australian Submarines was limited to two platforms that had female designated cabins. This was found to limit career and posting opportunities for female submariners and the policy around separate sleeping quarters for women was eventually withdrawn following successful trials of unisex cabins for officers and senior sailors. Whilst maintaining clear rules around privacy and female representation within submarine crews, the first unisex cabins for junior sailors commenced in 2011 (Sydney Morning Herald, 2011).
Considered a first for the ADF, this highlights a clear example of the RAN’s successes around innovative measures to enhance gender inclusive practices and workplaces. Female submariners have always wanted to be treated as submariners and not ‘female submariners’ and the process of integration on Australian submarines acknowledged this underlying belief.
Gender integration in the Submarine Force and in the military as a whole has been problematic at times and opinions on women serving in specialty areas and environments like submarines can vary considerably. Those against the integration of women aboard submarines, particularly in regard to allied navies such as in the USA, include adamant concerns about issues such as large projected co-habitability costs and constraints, lack of privacy, the belief that women inherently shouldn’t or can’t work in combat positions, an amplified possibility of unacceptable behaviour by men towards female crew members, motherhood and the effect of submarine service on families and female-specific medical problems and needs (McDermott 2017; Faram 2019).
As with many RAN branches, the Silent Service has not been completely without problems since women began serving aboard submarines, particularly in the realm of instances of unacceptable behaviour perpetrated against female colleagues. Nonetheless, this is not an issue unique to submarine service or environments, but rather an issue within the whole of the ADF and Australian society (Reghenzani 2015).
For the current generation of officers and sailors, women have been a part of the RAN for years and submariners expect to serve with female colleagues just as they would on surface platforms. Overall, the integration process has gone well over the course of the past 20 years and data from the RAN (2021) suggests that about one out of every eight Australian submariners is female.
Lessons Learned are Lessons Shared
There is an abundance of immense and substantial lessons, beliefs and practices that the integration of women aboard Australian submarines can teach us for today’s current and future RAN and wider Profession of Arms. Furthermore, these lessons have also been pivotal for the implementation of similar initiatives with our allied navies who have followed Australia’s lead in this area of change. Two of those beliefs include the value of diversity and how inclusive workplaces, even those that are uniquely challenging environments such as submarines, can benefit not only the men and women on an individual level, but crews and organisations as a whole.
As discussed by Reghenzani (2015), in this modern age, we are frequently discovering that organisations that not only embrace but promote all forms of diversity and inclusion perform significantly better than those that do not. This stance reflects, amongst other things, a belief within both the Australian Government, ADF and RAN that there should be no obstacles to women achieving at all levels and within all facets of the Profession of Arms.
Supporting women to pursue employment in non-traditional roles in the Navy contributes to a diverse workforce in the Profession of Arms, strengthening the ADF’s ability to be a highly capable, relevant and evolved organisation that inherently demonstrates the Defence Values of service, courage, respect, integrity and excellence.
There are currently 868 submariners in the RAN with 108 of them women, equating to around 12.4 percent of the Australian submarine workforce (RAN 2021). Women have been serving in ships at sea with the RAN for decades and integrating them into the RAN Submarine Force completed their inclusion into all seagoing branches.
Gender and diversity can be a complex subject and cultural change in organisations such as the RAN can often be fraught with difficulties associated with beliefs, attitudes and incongruent personal values eliciting resistance to the implementation of change (Reghenzani 2015). Irrespective of this it is important to understand that risk often reaps reward and the integration of women serving aboard submarines is a clear example of success, even when in uncharted waters.
The integration of women aboard Australian submarines was a discrete but crucial part of a wider transformation of attitudes in the RAN and ADF, and a revolution which echoed essential changes in Australian society towards gender and diversity. Continuing the path of cultural reform and promoting a diverse Navy allows the RAN to become a more inclusive, forward-thinking and leading-edge organisation with a sustainable and robust future.
To be a first-class organisation in the Profession of Arms, it is imperative that we endorse the message and belief that we can’t just tolerate, but rather embrace, diversity. Dismantling the many forms of barriers to participation and capitalising on all skills, perspectives and experiences regardless of gender creates a culture of inclusion that works to the advantage of everyone and empowers all members to flourish.
Argirides, A. 2006, Women in the RAN: The Road to Command, viewed 28 August 2021, <https://www.navy.gov.au/history/feature-histories/women-ran-road-command-sea>.
Department of Defence 2020, Defence Annual Report 2019-2, Department of Defence, Canberra.
Department of Defence 2019, Women in the ADF Report 2017-18: A Supplement to the Defence Annual Report 2017-18, Department of Defence, Canberra.
Faram, M. 2019, What’s Next for Enlisted Female Submariners, Navy Times, viewed 28 August 2021, https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2019/07/18/whats-next-for-enlisted-female-submariners/.
Huie, S.F. 2000, Ships Belles: The Story of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service in War and Peace 1941-1985, Watermark Press, Balmain.
McDermott, J. 2017, Women in the Military: US Navy Redesigning Its Submarines, Navy Times, viewed 28 August 2021, <https://www.navytimes.com/ news/your-navy/2017/04/19/women-in-the-military-us-navy-redesigning-its-submarines/>.
McDonald, L. 2020, Women Serve Aboard Submarines, The Brunswick News, viewed 28 August 2021, <https://taskandpurpose.com/news/women-serve-aboard-submarines/>.
Nepean Naval and Maritime Museum 2015, Submarine Service, viewed 28 August 2021, <http://www.nepeannaval.org.au/Museum/Submarines/Submarine-Service.html>.
Reghenzani, C. 2015. Women in the ADF: Six Decades of Policy Change (1950 to 2011), Summer Scholar’s Paper, Parliament of Australia Parliamentary Library, Canberra.
Royal Australian Navy, 2021, Monthly Workforce Status Report (MWSR) August 2021 – Section 9, viewed 28 August 2021, <drnet.defence. gov.au/People/WP/Strategic-Workforce-Planning-and-Analysis/Current-Published-Products/ Pages/Navy.aspx>.
Spurling, K. 2014, From Exclusion to Submarines: Women in the Royal Australian Navy, Century of Submarines in Australia 1914-2014 Magazine, RNR Publishing Ltd, Martinborough, pp. 124-149.
Sydney Morning Herald 2011, Unisex Bedrooms for Submarines, Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 28 August 2021, <https://www.smh.com.au/ national/unisex-bedrooms-for-submarines-20110615-1g3jq.html>.
Veterans SA 2016, A Short History of Australia’s Servicewomen, Veterans SA, viewed 28 August 2021, <https://veteranssa.sa.gov.au/story/a-short-history-of-australian-womens-service/>.