For the Royal New Zealand Navy, the 2023 International Women’s Day offers more reasons to celebrate than most.
It coincides not only with the highest percentage ever of women in the Navy at 27.4%, but the largest number of women taking command of Navy ships and shore units, with four in command of ships and three in command of shore units.
For the Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral David Proctor, the numbers are significant milestones.
“International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the diversity of our personnel and recognise the value women bring to our organisation,” he said.
“But we also need to walk the walk and demonstrate that women have just as much opportunity to succeed as men. Having wāhine as commanding officers on more than 60 per cent of our ships, as well as heading up shore units and other important portfolios, is a realisation of that goal.”
This is a quite a sea change from the early days of Navy’s history.
Despite the fact that women were first approved by the War Cabinet to join the Navy in 1942, it took 44 years for a pilot programme to allow women to go to sea in non-combatant vessels. This programme was a success and in 1989 all women joining the Navy were required to serve at sea – and from 1993 they could serve on frigates.
Since then, there has been a steady increase in the number of women joining the Navy. The reasons they do are exactly the same as their male counterparts – to learn a trade, to make a difference, to see the world, to experience things others never will and to make life-long friends.
Captain Maxine Lawes, who joined the Navy in 1985, notes the change that has occurred in Navy culture over the years – particularly with the focus on diversity, equity and respect for personnel.
“Our Navy had to adapt to a changing world,” she said. “It wasn’t easy initially but nothing worth doing is.”
“I now look at the confident, well-supported, motivated and highly trained women in our Navy and feel enormously proud that they don’t just serve in the Navy, but they thrive in it and are in command of it.”