A year ago, the Canadian Navy was grappling with the impact of a new, mandatory maternity leave policy that has prompted the service to seek out a more diverse pool of recruits.
Now, it is seeking a similar solution for human resources: an 80-80 gender split for the whole force.
In a memo sent Wednesday, Rear-Admiral Christine McElroy, commander of the Canadian Naval Forces, told her staff that a new “gender separation policy” would apply to the entire force, including personnel from across Canada’s five national armies.
That means the Navy will be split between female and male recruiters at all levels, regardless of the gender of the recruit.
That will result in fewer male and female applicants for the same job.
“It’s about ensuring we have a diversity of talent that is able to effectively serve the people of Canada,” McElry said.
The new policy comes amid a growing trend among Canadian military services, including the Canadian Army, to diversify their hiring pools, and is being seen as an attempt to improve recruitment of women.
A 2014 report by the Canadian Institute for Policy Alternatives found that while there are no gender gaps in the military, women make up a smaller share of recruits than men.
The military is also grappling with what to do with some of its most senior officers who have retired and been replaced by female leaders.
But the Navy has long struggled to recruit a woman.
In the past, there were no women on the board of directors or in key roles.
As a result, many officers have taken on the role of surrogates for senior leaders who want to recruit more women, such as Lieutenant-Colonel Catherine Sneddon, who became the first woman to be appointed as the head of the Royal Canadian Navy in 2015.
As part of the new policy, the Navy is also considering adding a separate recruitment drive for women.
The memo, written by McElrry, said the new “divisions” would allow the Navy to better integrate women into its workforce and ensure that its recruitment strategy is effective.
It also says the new division would include a “separation of duties” for women, which would allow them to focus on leadership roles, such the role in the Navy’s training academy, as opposed to “training and leadership.”
A Navy spokeswoman said the division would be created in three stages, with the first one expected to start in the first quarter of 2019.
The Navy has not said how many women will be eligible to apply.
But there are some indications that it may be taking a more cautious approach to recruitment.
In an email, the Naval Staff said the service is “working closely with the Ministry of Defence (MDR) to ensure the new gender separation policy applies across all branches of the Navy, and that women are being actively recruited and accepted to participate in the recruitment process.”
In the memo, McElsey also said the Navy was looking for more women in leadership roles across the organization, including within the leadership development team.
She said the recruitment drive is being undertaken to ensure that women can “immediately and effectively lead the new force.”
McElroys memo also outlines ways to help ensure that the recruitment drives are not just “a one-time event.”
It will be possible for the Navy “to work closely with recruiters to help them develop skills in a variety of different areas, including social and family, teamwork, communication, leadership, leadership development, and communication skills.”
The memo said the “Division of Women” will be part of a wider “gender and diversity strategy” to “provide greater visibility to women in the workforce and to enhance the Navy experience and culture.”
McEllroy told the Canadian Press in a statement Wednesday that she was pleased with the outcome and noted that the “gender divide” would help “create more effective and efficient teams” that would “work to address issues such as retention and retention rates, retention rates in the Reserve and the Reserve officer corps, retention in the naval and marine services, diversity in the Naval Academy, and the growth of the service.”
But the memo is not without its critics.
“We must continue to make sure that women in positions of leadership are being promoted to positions of power in the civilian and military life of our country,” said Kate Smith, a senior researcher at the Canadian Council for Independent Studies, in a news release.
“The military must continue its efforts to make itself more representative of the communities it serves.”
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.