Changes To Defence Policy Regarding Employment Of Women

By 2000 women were fully integrated into the Royal New Zealand Navy. Read about the that policy took over 23 years to come into force as the Navy underwent the transition from an all-male sea-going force to mixed ships’ crews. 


By 2000 women were fully integrated into the Royal New Zealand Navy. This policy took over 23 years to come into force as the Navy underwent the transition from an all-male sea-going force to mixed ships’ crews. One of the challenges of the integration process has been the recognition that the personal discomforts that men will tolerate compared with the discomforts that a woman will tolerate. They are different but in the navy today these differences are no excuse for differentiation between two groups of people. In fact there has never been an excuse of divisive behaviour in any form. Strong efficient teams are one of the strengths of the Navy who has within its ranks people that represent more diversity that any sector of society. Women have integrated totally into life of being a sea-going sailor, and have been trained in the same skills as their male colleagues of the same seniority.

The First Steps: Disbandment of WRNZNS and moving to an integrated Navy  

In 1977, the Ministry of Defence set up a working party to examine the implications to the existing policies on the employment of women in the New Zealand Armed Forces.

Some of the conclusions of the Working Party were:

-Trades and specialisations and all avenues of entry should be regarded as open equally to both men and women unless a qualification of the Act permits restriction.

-the entry of women might be restricted where ablution facilities and or separate accommodation was not available and it was not reasonable to provide these facilities;

-the training offered to women should be such as to enable them to progress on equal terms with men in the same specialisations;

-recruiting literature should show equality of opportunity generally and show by annotation those trades to which an entry restriction applied; and

-recruiting literature and advertising should be reviewed to remove discriminatory conditions.

The Working Party summed up its findings with the following statement:

It is evident that the Human Rights Commission Act 1977 will require radical changes in Defence Policies on the employment of women.  It may appear that in some areas these changes will hinder the Armed Forces ability to achieve their aim.  The implementation of required changes will therefore need to be carefully monitored, but changes to the Act cannot be expected, at least in the immediated future.

As a result of this Working Party, the Ministry instructed single services to take the necessary steps to implement the new policy, which, it had been decided, should exclude women from combat roles.

New Zealand Navy Orders 64 and 156/77 set out the policy for employment of women in the RNZN.  In the preamble, it was noted that it was Defence Council Policy that women should be excluded from Combat Trades.  It was further noted that the Navy did not recognise any combatant / non-combatant distinctions, but that, in order to accord with the spirit of the policy women would not be employed in:

  1. Gunnery and Weapon specialisations of the Seaman Branch,
  2. Sonar specialisations of the Seaman Branch,
  3. Seacat Aimer and ASAC sub specialisations of the Seaman Branch,
  4. Radar Plotting specialisation of the Seaman Branch afloat,
  5. Signals and Electronic Warfare categories of the Communication Branch, nor in the radio category of this Branch afloat, and
  6. Diving Branch.

A further caveat involved “physically demanding work” and with regard to promotion requirements understandably excluded females from obtaining qualifications which the employment policy allowed then no opportunity to exploit.

The Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) at the time, Rear Admiral J.S. McKenzie, CB, CBE in a personal message to the Navy, stated that the new policy was “an essential step in helping to overcome our chronic manpower shortages”.  With regard to the question of women serving at sea, Navy Order 64/77 decreed that while women were not to serve in fighting ships “It is possible that the employment of women in non-fighting ships will be considered in the long term.  Non fighting ship meant survey and research ships / craft.

 On 29 July 1977 the WRNZNS was officially disbanded.

Ongoing Analysis: Employment Of Women At Sea In The RNZN – Commandants Paper

In October 1981, four years after the integration of women into the RNZN, a paper was written on the employment of women at sea in the RNZN. The paper commenced with an introduction as follows:

One of the important features of recent social changes within New Zealand is the greater emphasis that has been placed on equality for women.  We have moved from a time when a woman’s role was primarily that of wife and mother, to a time when society has implied through legislation that women should have full employment opportunities and career options.

The introduction went on to discuss the next major change in the employment of women in the RNZN is to be in the area of allowing women to serve in the non-combatant ships. The paper considered the possibility of women serving in HMNZ Ships Monowai and Tui.  The Inshore Survey Craft were not included due to their smallness creating a different set of conditions unless that factor made it feasible to have an all female crew. The aim of the paper was to show that the RNZN policy of the time should be changed to allow women to serve in HMNZ Ships Monowai and Tui.

In 1981, women constituted 8.3 percent of the RNZN.  They were mostly in the Supply and Secretariat Branch and the Radio Specialisation of the Communications Branch.  It was argued that they could therefore be potential sailors in the non-combatant ships.

Comparisons to other Navies were made:

The United States Navy established a pilot programme for evaluating the use of women at sea in 1972.  60 women were posted to USS Sanctuary, 35 as members of the Ship’s Company and 25 as medical personnel.  Even though some of the women were not volunteers the final report concluded that they had demonstrated their ability to perform their tasks with ease, expertise and dedication equal to that shown by men.

The United States Coastguard Service posted 24 women to two cutters in 1977.  The only problem encountered was the inability of women to handle the heavy lines used in mooring the ships; a problem also encountered with some of the smaller men.  This employment of women at sea proved to be so successful, the Coast Guard increased the numbers and roles of women in ships including giving them command of two cutters.

The Canadian Forces had eight women serving in a diving tender in 1980 as part of a trial aimed at determining the impact of employing mixed groups in the sea environment.

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) allowed female midshipman to undergo navigational training periods at sea in HMAS Jervis Bay as part of the RAN equal training policy.  This commenced May 1980 and was ongoing.

Survey of Attitudes within the RNZN:

A survey was carried out during August 1981 to determine the attitudes of women members of the RNZN, the crew members of HMNZ Ships Monowai and Tui, and the wives of those crew members, towards women being allowed to serve at sea.  Of the total number of surveys distributed, 64% were completed by women, 61% crew members and 71% by wives of crew members.

Of the surveys returned by women members of the RNZN 82% said they would be volunteers to go to sea; 14% would accept a sea posting and only 4% would apply for a release from the Navy if they were posted to sea.

Of the surveys returned by crew members of HMNZ Ships Monowai and Tui, 92 per cent believed that women who were suitably qualified should have the same employment and career opportunities as men. This was reduced to 76 percent when the same criterion was applied to the more specific case of women serving in ships.  There was little real opposition from the men to women serving in the same ship as men as only five percent said they would request for an exchange posting.  66 percent believed that males would end up doing more of the physically demanding work and 42 percent believed the ship’s effectiveness would decrease.

Of the surveys returned by wives of crew members 79 percent believed that women should be allowed to serve in HMNZ Ships Monowai and Tui regardless of whether or not their husbands were serving in them.  Only one wife would try to persuade her husband to leave the Navy if women were serving in the same ship as him and one other wife would try to persuade her husband to apply for a posting to another ship.

Lost Time:

Although a total of 40 of the 357 women serving in US ships during 1979 were posted ashore due to pregnancy, the number of lost days shown as a percentage of total days available was 0.63 for women and 1.1 percent for men.  This covered time lost through alcohol use, drug abuse, unauthorised absence, abortion and pregnancy.  The data gathered supported the contention that women tend to be absent for medical reasons, whereas men are more likely to be absent for disciplinary reasons.


HMNZS Monowai had suitable accommodation for women of all ranks.  Separate heads and bathrooms could be made available for the exclusive use of female officers and junior ranks and minor extensions were necessary to provide a separate head for female senior ranks.

HMNZS Tui enabled women to use one or two berth senior ranks cabins and the two, three or four berth junior ranks cabins.  Some changes were necessary to provide them with separate heads and bathrooms.


The paper concluded that the RNZN policy of the time did not strike a reasonable balance between the employment of women in peace time on the one hand, and the likelihood of their being exposed to active combat on the other.

The Americans found that women serving in non-combatant ships performed their tasks satisfactorily with few significant problems.  The USN employed women in non-combatant ships since 1972 and planned to have over 5200 at sea by 1985.

There was no shortage of women volunteers to serve in HMNZ Ships Monowai and Tui and very little real opposition from the crew members or their wives.

It was concluded that it was possible for women to serve in HMNZ Ships Monowai and Tui while still ensuring that they would not serve in an active combat role.


The author of the paper recommended that the RNZN change its policy and allow women to serve in HMNZ Ships Monowai and Tui and detailed some essential educational training and briefing sessions to all concerned.

The Burton Report

The Human Rights Commission, whose establishment had led the Navy to disband the WRNZNS and begin the process of bringing women all branches of the service, offered to assist NZDF and RNZN to undertake a cultural audit of the organisation in relation to our gender integration programme.

 The aim of the study was:

…to identify the philosophy, policies, and practices which underpin the NZDF’s progress towards the integration of women into the NZDF at all levels and in doing so, identify any cultural social, and institutional barriers which impedes the progression of women in the NZDF on a merit basis.

In October 1998 and audit of integration of women into the RNZN was completed by Dr. Clare Burton who had conducted a similar audit of the Australian Defence Force.

RNZN’s understanding of her brief was that the audit would show that the RNZN…was committed to equal employment opportunity in all work and management practises and to providing Service and Civilian members, men and women, with the opportunity to progress their careers based on their own merit, in an environment free from harassment and discrimination.

This Gender Integration Audit (otherwise known as the Burton Report), was 254 pages long and divided into Part A – The Military and Part B – Civil Staff. Within these sections there were topics such as:

  • Attitudes
  • Harassment
  • Career management
  • Leadership
  • Equal employment opportunities

The final section contained 121 recommendations for the NZDF broken down into seven areas of concern:

  • Attitudinal and perceptual barrier to gender integration
  • Physical standards
  • Gender and sexual harassment
  • Human resource management polices and practices
  • Leadership on and
  • Management of gender integration
  • Equal employment opportunity

A report submitted to CDF in June 1999 indicated that 54% of the recommendations had been satisfied, 39% were under action, and 7% were yet to be progressed.

What recommendations did the Navy believe it satisfied?

  • Attitudinal and perceptual barrier to gender integration
  • Developed positive attitudes towards women in the Navy
  • Enhanced the Kiwi “can do” mentality of personnel via the training system
  • Physical standards
  • JOBFIT project – covered requirements of job related physical strength
  • Consulted with women personnel on uniforms
  • New equipment designed for bi-gender capabilities
  • Looked to redesign equipment in service to meet gender neutrality
  • Gender and sexual harassment
  • Advertised widely the NZDF policy on harassment
  • Behaviour standards at work and in the mess promulgated
  • Put into place procedures for reporting and dealing with harassment
  • RNZN noted at the end of 1997 that reported incidents of harassment and discrimination was decreasing
  • Human resource management polices and practices
  • Service 21 project
  • Developed career co-ordination
  • Provision of child care facilities
  • Parental leave for men and women
  • Flexibility and choice for service and civilian staff with family responsibilities
  • OSH requirements for computer use introduced
  • Reviewed civilian staff selection and recruiting procedures
  • For couples in the Navy, they could choose which one’s career could be advanced
  • Leadership on and Management of gender integration
  • Introduced harassment training as part of new entry programmes
  • Officers trained on the provisions of the Human Rights Act under management courses
  • Equal employment opportunity
  • RNZN joined the EEO Trust
  • RNZN established a Runanga under the rangitiratanga of a Maori CPO
  • By 2000 all documentation was to be gender-neutral in their language
  • Advisory bodies for consultation purposes on women
  • Active plan to steer recruits into non-traditional areas
  • Continuous attitude surveys to build a database of qualitative and quantatitative data