On Wednesday 24 August, the Association for Defence and Security Studies (ADSS) hosted a “women in security” panel for ANU community members to hear from leading women in security positions. Panellists discussed their career journey, personal experiences, and the need for women in the security field.

A United Nations Global Study in 2015 showed that peace processes have a 20 to 35 percent higher chance of lasting when women participate. Seven years after such a report, women are underrepresented in such peace and security spaces. Between 1992 and 2019, women constituted, on average, only 13 percent of negotiators, 6 percent of mediators and 6 percent of signatories in major peace processes, according to the UN Women Organisation.

The ADSS hosts the “Women in Security Panel” event annually to promote and encourage women studying security to work in such national and international security spaces.

This year’s panellists included Shelby Higgs (Key Account Manager at Thales), Rebecca Banagala (Senior Consultant for Coras Solutions), Anthea McCarthy-Jones (Senior Lecturer at UNSW Canberra, specialising in Latin-American politics and policies), and an unidentified panellist working for Defence.

Questions by audience members aimed to understand each panellist’s journey and challenges, particularly as a woman in what is considered a male-dominated space. Despite being in such masculine workplaces, all the panellists agreed that they “wear the skirt,” regardless of their position in the organisation. To wear the skirt means to dress and perform femininely.

The panellists discussed how they often face microaggressions and stereotyping in their workplace, where even how they dress can affect how others perceive them. The panel asserted that they were not phased by these microaggressions, and felt that they persevered past them.

When questioned about “positive discrimination,” one of the panelists announced that she “disagree[s] with feminism these days,” and that she does not “allow nor like meeting gender diversity quotas or ratios” in workplaces. The same panellist discussed how she enforces a “5 percent quota of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the hiring process” in her own division. The other panellists agreed they do not like positive discrimination and believe that they “were never the diversity card” in their workplaces. They felt that their abilities should be prioritised over concerns of equity.

Each panellist found their careers were aided by great opportunities, including graduate programs, and networking after completing higher education. Additionally, they each noted their privilege in the workplace, with the majority of them being white women born in Australia with tertiary qualifications. These panellists acknowledged their challenges differed from those of other women with different backgrounds in the security realm.

All panellists applauded the audience for their attendance, particularly the high number of men that also came to the event. They ended the night by encouraging each person to pursue their dream career and start early with finding work experience in the security field.

The ADSS Secretary, Grace Carey, told Woroni that “future panel events may include other genders who can also provide a non-cis male perspective, as this is currently underrepresented in the national sector.”

Women are becoming a huge asset for the security and humanitarian industry, with a global push to better diversify and strengthen these workplaces. This panel exemplified the contributions women make to the security field.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.