Blog  •  8 Mar 2024  •  5 min read

Navigating Inclusion: Transforming the UK Defence and Engineering Industries for Women’s Success

– By Charlie Kenney, Senior Consultant of Optima Systems Consultancy

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, it is imperative to reflect on the strides made in gender equality while acknowledging the journey that still lies ahead, particularly in traditionally male-dominated industries such as the UK Defence and Engineering sectors.

In this blog post, Charlie Kenney, one of our Senior Systems Engineering Consultants with experience of managing organisational change for defence clients, will explore how defence organisations can navigate complex business transformation projects to foster a culture that promotes diversity, inclusion, and gender equality.

  1. Understanding the Landscape:

At Optima we always looking for systems engineers who can comprehensively understand the bigger picture; the system and the context within which it exists. It’s important to resist driving straight to the detail and focussing on breaking down a problem into its constituent parts.

To dismantle gender bias in the UK Defence industry, it is crucial to first understand the existing landscape. Recognising the challenges women face, from stereotyping to unconscious biases, forms the foundation for targeted initiatives that drive lasting change.

So, get curious, ask questions, read reports or blogs from women and give the women in your workplace an opportunity to share their experiences and the changes they would like to see.

  1. Psychological Safety:

Creating an environment of psychological safety is paramount. Employees, regardless of gender, must feel secure in being themselves and expressing their opinions without fear of repercussions. For women in defence, ensuring their voices are heard is vital for personal and professional growth.

Employees also need to feel safe to ask questions and make mistakes without fear of stigma or judgement. Building a culture that values learning from mistakes and embracing them as lessons to be learned is important for enabling a workplace that fosters the growth of all its employees.

This includes supporting those who are on a journey of allyship or addressing their personal attitudes or bias to foster a more inclusive environment. Mistakes will be made as we continue on this journey. People, including yourself, may say and do the wrong thing. It’s crucial to address such incidents constructively and compassionately, providing opportunities for those exhibiting non-inclusive behaviour to learn and grow.

  1. Navigating Bias:

We all have unconscious bias! Addressing and mitigating our biases is a continuous process. Implementing awareness programs, unconscious bias training, safe spaces to discuss bias, and anonymous reporting mechanisms can help identify and rectify gender-based biases within the workplace.

  1. Allyship:

Encouraging male colleagues to be allies is a powerful step towards a more inclusive workplace. Several studies have shown that allies are often taken more seriously than affected people when they confront non-inclusive behaviour and are more likely to be heard when they advocate for diversity.

By fostering allyship, organisations can dismantle stereotypes, challenge bias, and create a unified front in support of women’s success. This requires equipping people with the proper skills and knowledge to act as a confident and effective ally. An uninformed and over enthusiastic ally can end up causing more harm than good! A key rule to remember is that we should help others as they wish to be helped.

  1. Leadership Support and Buy-In:

For true transformation, leadership must champion the cause. Senior executives should actively demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion, making it clear that gender equality is not just a policy but a fundamental value of the organisation.

Leaders have a key role to play in fostering psychological safety and role modelling inclusive behaviour. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Clearly defining expectations for an inclusive environment.
  • Acknowledging personal knowledge limitations, mistakes, and unconscious biases, setting an example for others to do the same.
  • Fostering open dialogue and curiosity regarding women’s experiences in the workplace and the changes they seek.
  • Taking prompt, compassionate, and constructive action to address non-inclusive behaviour and seeking systemic solutions.
  1. Mechanisms for Career Advancement:

Establishing mechanisms to support women in advancing their careers is essential. This includes mentorship programs, leadership development initiatives, and opportunities for skill-building. Transparency in promotion processes can further eliminate gender-based disparities.

  1. Measuring Progress:

Regularly measuring and reporting on diversity and inclusivity metrics allows organisations to track their progress and identify areas that require further attention. Accountability at all levels ensures that commitment to gender equality is not just rhetoric but a measurable reality.

It’s not just about identifying the diversity within your organization; measuring progress in inclusion involves assessing culture, environment, and behaviours. This can be challenging as it requires capturing data on individual feelings and perceptions. Utilise questions like “On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident do you feel voicing a differing opinion in a meeting?” to gauge psychological safety. Also, ask open-ended questions such as “Where can we improve to create a more inclusive environment moving forward?” to allow employees to express views and suggest solutions freely.


On this International Women’s Day, let us collectively commit to transforming the UK Defence and Engineering industries into a space where women can not only survive but thrive. By incorporating gender bias and other inclusion and diversity aspects into complex business transformation projects, we pave the way for a more equitable future. The journey may be challenging, but the rewards of a diverse and inclusive workforce are immeasurable, contributing to the strength and resilience of the entire industry.

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