Men As Allies

I am paraphrasing Lord Mountbatten when he, on taking on the role of Chief of Combined Operations in 1941, invited brave men and women to bring their individual skills to the fight but leave their prejudices at the door. The recognition that we are stronger when we are together is, of course, as true today as it was then.  


So, whilst I am proud to contribute to #MenAsAllies, the fact that we need to remind ourselves is perhaps not (as some might think) an admission of failure but it is certainly a reminder that the journey is still not complete.  And we should, therefore, ask ourselves: How can we complete this journey more quickly?

I think we are accelerating. My personal professional journey, like many of my generation, began with the transition of women to sea in the early 1990s. We now have a strong track record of women performing well in all key positions and specialisations (including in command), and we now are on the cusp of accepting women into the Royal Marines as equals.  

This is a seminal moment as the Naval Service becomes truly gender-integrated. We now have the evidence that such integration at the team level results in better engagement of the workforce, better operational performance and lower incidences of poor discipline. Moreover those teams that display the highest levels of integration and diversity engender a culture of mentoring and self-actualisation that spots, nurtures and promotes talent.  

It is not yet a virtuous circle but it is easy to see the potential. That is why ships, boats, squadrons and units that really display these qualities perform better in training and prove more resilient and adaptable on operations. It's obvious: we're all different; those differences bring strengths; accept and embrace the differences and we will be stronger and can cope with our weaknesses.

So what about engineering? It is, I think, the toughest operating environment in a tough Service. Increasingly that is about mental toughness as well as physical toughness. It is about using technical knowledge and skill-at-hand to solve complex engineering challenges, every day, at reach, in adversity.

It is about maintaining, operating, diagnosing and repairing systems in our charge to the maximum effect. It is about providing professional operationally focused advice - often to people who will not like what we have to say. You should all have spotted the link.  

These challenges are best met with the diversity of thinking and gender diversity is a key enabler of that. Look beyond the androgynous façade of overalls, sweat and grime and see the talent that lies beneath. I think that is why we, as engineers, were early adopters of gender diversity.  

Once we had left our prejudices at the door the benefit is self-evident. But now we have a toehold, we need to exploit it. We need to be loud and proud about what our women engineers are achieving and encourage the generation that follows as role models.  

If "getting over ourselves" was a male-led endeavour in the late twentieth century, then the next steps must be led by the women I am honoured to call my colleagues. I think we have been seeing that in many areas and at all levels for some time now, but I want to see more numbers and increasing confidence.

I am convinced that my professional journey would have been harder and less fulfilling without women to help me on the way. Thank you for helping me along the way and I hope I have been able to reflect even a little back to you.  

But my final though remains that, if it's still giving me this pause for thought after nearly 30 years, then I really have not put enough effort in. #WomenMyMentors.

Commodore Paul Marshall, T26 Project Leader

Women in Engineering

Women in Engineering