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With recruitment lagging, Canadian military preparing new ethos, dress code

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Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) leadership says it hopes a new military ethos and dress code refresh will help address a much-needed culture shift as it struggles to recruit more diverse personnel.

During a technical briefing on recent initiatives and future plans taken by the Department of National Defence to address the military’s culture, officials said lack of diversity in the ranks is affecting readiness and the situation requires serious attention.

“The reality is that the Canadian workforce has changed but we, the CAF, have not. Seventy-one per cent of the CAF workforce are still white males, although they only represent 39 per cent of the Canadian civilian workforce,” said Maj.-Gen. Lise Bourgon, acting chief of military personnel, on Wednesday.

“So as an organization, we must attract, recruit, retain and develop talent that is representative of our Canadian society.”

To achieve this goal, Bourgon said the new “trusted to serve” ethos will emphasize character as being critically important, while including inclusion as a military value and teamwork as a professional expectation.

Also soon to be released is a new gender-inclusive dress code for military personnel.

“We've heard from our members that the existing dress instructions were not inclusive, and did not allow our members to represent their authentic selves while in uniform,” said Bourgon.

The CAF will give members options regarding their appearance while following safety and operational effectiveness guidelines.

“Professional skills and competence are not defined by the length or the colour of your hair. So this will be the first visual display of our culture and honestly a very clear signal that the CAF is evolving into a more inclusive organization,” Bourgon said.

Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan, chief of professional conduct and culture, cited COVID-19 and the unearthing of repeated instances of sexual misconduct over the last several years as reasons for low recruitment levels, specifically when it comes to women, Indigenous Peoples, and visible minorities.

While the Forces has a goal of reaching 25.1 per cent of women recruits, in 2021 that figure stood at 15 per cent.

The CAF achieved slightly more than 40 per cent of its total intake target in 2020-2021 and is tracking to meet approximately 75 per cent of its target in 2021-2022.

Officials said that as far as “trained, effective strength” goes, the CAF is 7,600 people short as of Feb. 15.

“[We are trying] to make sure that we, through our soon-to-be-published retention strategy, will have the ability to measure the causes of attrition, what causes unhealthy attrition specifically, and why people are leaving… this is, of course, a number one priority for all of us, ensuring that readiness is not affected,” said Maj.-Gen. Simon Bernard.

Defence Minister Anita Anand said one of her primary goals at the helm is to build the base.

This comes as NATO leaders consider long-term deployments in Eastern Europe as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the Canadian government faces increased pressure to boost its share of defence spending to two per cent of Canada’s GDP.

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