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Beyond the Hype: HG's Perspective of Diversity and Acceptance


DEFGLIS Board Member and self-confessed staunch ally Prudence Hawkins-Griffiths reflects on the importance of diversity and acceptance within Defence.

Until I was posted into the Defence training environment in June 2015, all I really understood about LGBTI matters was the very one-sided point of view I had seen in the media or heard in ill-informed conversations. Hyperemotivity, ignorance and intolerance is common to all these viewpoints  – including my own.

Since then, I have been on a very steep learning curve. On arrival, I was given the extra-regimental duty of supervising the LGBTI Community. I had no idea what that meant, what I was in for, or how this role would take me beyond the hype to champion the cause and become a staunch ally for LGBTI members. 

My organisation's selection process is rigorous. Applicants are assessed for character, attributes, academic and leadership ability, fitness, problem solving, and people skills. The calibre of our applicants is very high. They are smart, tech-savvy, ambitious, competitive; and come from very diverse backgrounds, cultures, religions, genders and countries.

In my recent working career, I have had to manage and respond to a number of gender diversity related challenges, changing the environment of my workplace. The challenges have also forced a review of attitudes and educational gaps of other staff in understanding gender diversity and education. When the challenges first surfaced, I turned to current policy. Unfortunately, there was little that could be applied to 1000 trainees aged between 17-22 years.

After consulting my chain-of-command, our decisions were based on common sense, fairness and equity so that trainees felt safe and supported. 

I quickly realised that in order to support the trainees and fulfil my role as the supervisor of the LGBTI Community, I actually had to learn and understand the issues associated with such a diverse range of people. Where did I get this education from? The trainees themselves! They were a gold mine of information.

The more I learned, the more I realised that my ignorance, hype and previous views were unfounded and based on outdated prejudices and unconscious bias that does not belong in a modern organisation. The more I interacted with the trainees, the more I realised that education and awareness was going to be key to ensuring the learning environment was inclusive and tolerant of our diverse cohort.

So, what did I do?

I empowered the LGBTI trainees to provide the educational piece which was clearly missing. I set the trainees two tasks: Develop an LGBTI educational session for all new trainees to provide a clear message of diversity and inclusivity; and produce a guide for staff on LGBTI support and management.

The key outcomes of these two tasks were to educate and inform. I wanted to cultivate and develop an inclusive culture, and peer-to-peer learning for this age cohort is very powerful. The trainees were the SMEs so it was right that they took the lead. Inclusion was an integral element of the new culture we needed to create for our future leaders and is critical for our organisation.

Since 2016, the success of our educational programs have spread across the ADF, and we have been asked to provide the training to other training establishments. The training is delivered by the trainees – our future leaders – educating the educators on why diversity and inclusion is so important. Now, the education programs are a standard part of the induction package of all trainees and staff. 

I’ve come a long way in the last four years. From someone who practically knew nothing about LGBTI matters, I am now a staunch advocate and ally for all members who identify as having diverse sexuality, sex or gender. 

I hope that by training future leaders with inclusive behaviours and thought patterns, I will ensure the people capability of Defence will be a force to be reckoned with.

17 June 2019