Defence Forces chief argues in favour of greater diversity

Organisations must also allow for mistakes in order to learn, says chief of staff Mark Mellett

The Defence Forces chief of staff has said it is vital that organisations promote gender equality and cultural, ethnic, religious and generational difference to deal with increasing global complexity.

Organisations that nurture difference and allow for mistakes as a form of learning will improve resilience as an "antidote" to complexity, Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett has said.

Writing in the current issue of Health Management, an online journal, he advocates developing a diversity and inclusion strategy that "promotes equality, values, difference, and embraces lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBTA) and other communities".

“Leadership, like innovation, is also about accepting risk-taking and mistakes,” Mellett says.


The Defence Forces chief of staff, who is the first Naval Service officer to hold the position, says achieving greater gender balance is a societal issue and that “improvement” in this balance at all levels “facilitates better decision-making and creative processes”.

He recommends “institutionalising a gender perspective”. This “analyses a person’s perceived value in a given context, their access to power, influence and resources, and mitigates against societal inequalities and unconscious bias”.

Recruiting women

The Defence Forces are still predominantly male – only 6.3 per cent are female – and a targeted campaign to recruit more women was initiated three years ago.

The forces comply with the Gender Recognition Act 2015 and have an LGBTA support network, Defend with Pride.

Mellett also advocates “bringing together diverse disciplines”, which requires an atmosphere of tolerance, a nurturing of different perspectives and a mix of humanities with the sciences.

Stressing the value of the arts, he says that this discipline encompasses the social and political sciences,” enhances the knowledge that builds and connects institutions, organisations and people”.

Mellett describes militaries as part of a bedrock that underpins sovereignty and contributes to a framework for civil society.

“We live in a time of extraordinary change and complexity,” he writes,with challenges all over the world to the shared values of civil society.

“Many have the characteristics of ‘wicked problems’, with extraordinary complexity, they may have multiple causes” and include “ interstate and intrastate, hybrid and proxy wars, state competition, cyber warfare, terrorism and criminality”, he says.

“Other vectors like population increase and climate change feed this complexity,” while potentially mitigating “positives include the growth in technology, automation, robotics and the explosion in data”, which he singles out as the “most exciting of all”.

Change in mindsets

While answers to complex problems exist, they may “often lie outside organisational or indeed state boundaries”, he writes, and “achieving congruence … requires innovation”.

However, he says that innovation is “not just about creativity”, but is a “systematic change in individual mindset and culture that permeates entire organisations with internal and external dimensions”.

“The more diversity stimulated in networks, the more potentially disruptive the innovation will be,” he says, and an innovation ecosystem might incorporate “state bodies, enterprise, academia and civil society actors”.

Collaboration between the Defence Forces and higher-education institutes has already shown benefits, he says.

“Driving innovation necessitates that the status quo is challenged, that cultures are open and inclusive, that there is no room for egos and, importantly, that there is an acceptance that mistakes will happen.”

Such “mistakes” are associated with risk-taking, and are distinguished from “violations, which are unacceptable breaches of the rules”.

Mellett says the future is about “how collaboration and knowledge-sharing is achieved, where ego is the enemy and empathy is the kingmaker”.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times