Recruiting, Retention and Cultural Change

By Michael Coggan August 31, 2020


We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created themAlbert Einstein


Australia has a multicultural past; the blend of religions and cultures as a result of a diverse immigrant society which has created the iconic society that is ‘Australian’. Diversity embodies an ethic for respect and acceptance for the community which breeds harmony, and cultural inclusion.

The Defence Force is a reflection of society, and as such needs to capitalise on the strengths that a diverse, multicultural society offers. If the Defence Force is to continue to be an inclusive, progressive organisation and grow by 2017, it will be required to strengthen its recruiting ability. Currently, it is competing against a competitive labour market. Additionally, the Defence Force must develop strategies to continue cultural change and this, in turn, will strengthen the retention of the diverse group that it has recruited.


This purpose of the paper is to discuss how to increase recruitment, continue cultural change within the Defence Force, and retain the diverse populace in order to further strengthen diversity in the Defence Force. I will explore the significance of embracing diversity in order to create cultural change that will strengthen recruiting and retention.

Point of Entry

Recruiting. Defence must become a more inclusive organisation to attract and recruit the diverse talent from society. A number of strategies have been developed to better represent the Defence Force as the “employer of choice”. These strategies have improved recruiting and have helped Defence to become more diverse in the targeted groups; these include the Indigenous policy now which has initiatives such as:

  • The “Recruit when Ready”. This initiative supports Indigenous candidates that are from a remote areas looking for employment and cannot wait for a particular enlistment date. A few Indigenous communities can suffer from negative influencers some from the community itself and this option is a great opportunity for any candidate wishing to join Defence.
  • The “Recruit to Area”. Diversity candidates have the option to enlist into Army and be posted to a specific location for an agreed period of time after recruit and initial employment training. The restrictions on the scheme include certain general enlistment roles and full time single service officer roles and the agreement will be for the first four years following enlistment in an agreed location. These initiatives are important. In the words of General DJ Hurley, they are “attracting young Australians to an ADF career (which) is a vital investment in our countries future”. The strategies for flexibility and inclusion will lead the way forward for cultural change.

'Defence must become a more inclusive organisation to attract and recruit the diverse talent from society'

Cultural Change

Cultural change is driven by people from all backgrounds that want change. As the Defence Diversity and Inclusion Strategy states, “through our individual and collective actions we will build a strong positive Defence culture and deliver a flexible, adaptable, inclusive workplace and a sustainable workforce”. This strategy for cultural change is what will strengthen the diversity across all services within the Defence force.

Defence is clear in its way forward for the future; “we need to be absolutely unambiguous: inclusivity and diversity are crucial to defences ability to operate at peak performance and demonstrate maximum capacity”. A person’s ability should not be judged by their culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or the language they speak. It should be judged by the capability one will to offer in the Defence of the country.

Army has commenced changes to include different and diverse backgrounds. All commanders are expected to champion cultural change. In 2014, when the then RSM-A WO Dave Ashley marched in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, he was an exemplar of cultural change and inclusion. There has been some talk of different groups eroding customs and traditions; these concerns are naive and misinformed. The inclusion of NAIDOC week and changes in the ADM are, in fact, bringing the customs and traditions to the standard of society. These strategies compliment and enhance the Defence Forces current policies to strengthen inclusiveness as part of cultural change. This cultural change will lead to retention.


In the White Paper 2016, Defence defines 'retention' as “retaining the high-quality, experienced staff that Defence has developed over time is as important as attracting new talent”. Defence policy supports the retention of its people through different strategies. One of the key strategies that links all involved is to “provide appropriate and supportive mentoring and network frameworks that meet diverse needs”. The employment conditions that are offered must be flexible and represent all, in particular the targeted groups. Again, as General Hurley said, “Defence should seek to represent the community it represents”. It will ultimately be up to the chain of command at all levels to instil the importance of diversity within its members, thus retaining all members of diverse backgrounds. It will be through cultural change that Defence will achieve retention.


Defence can capitalise on the benefits of people of diverse backgrounds by developing reforms focusing on cultural integration and inclusiveness. Defence must continue to evolve with the society it represents. It is must continue to attract, and retain young Australians with the skills and knowledge that Defence will require in the future, this is the challenge Defence faces now and in the future, it must instil cultural change in order to retain its diverse members.


1. To expedite and reinforce defence direction I would recommended that:
a. Defence conduct further education on cultural change and awareness through biannual professional development.
b. Cultural awareness briefs to be introduced to promotion courses to expedite information across Army IAW CA intent.



Michael Coggan

WO2 Coggan is an Instructor at the Warrant Officer and NCO Academy - Army.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


Some other measures/recommendations to consider: 1. Opening all recruiting initiatives and mentoring programs to males ensuring there is a culture of equal opportunity in the ADF. For example, negative perceptions fostered by implementation of 'women only' solutions is detrimental to cultural change. 2. Instead of focusing recruiting expenditure primarily on national wide marketing campaigns aimed to targeting ADF key demographic being 17-21 years olds, redirect funds to headhurt/directly source desirable candidates, i.e. Amateur athletes or young professionals. 3. Build on the mentoring program already established by the ADF by generating short-term secondments for Senior Army leadership into civilian organisations in which a gender/diversity balance has been established. The emersion will create champions of change by seeing first hand what greater levels of gender/diversity balance can achieve and how this build and strengthen capability. 4. In line with the Canadian Forces, consider procuring equipment for a gender neutral force, i.e. Equipment designed specifically for the female form to ensure that women have the same level of protection and comfort as their male colleagues. Thoughts?

You raise a number of good points. Retention levels have lowered in the last couple of years within certain corps and ranks, largely I suspect there are not so many other jobs to go to. There are also a number of continued initiatives provided for Defence members although many are a number that aren't well known. I agree with you that initiatives for recruiting should be gender neutral as much as practicable. and target specific audiences. A key issue though is there can be negative consequences of targeting a specific group, whether it be either gender or race. There can become a perceived bias and a created unwanted conflict, where current or potential recruits/staff may believe someone only got a job by having a leg up or being favored. This is an undesirable outcome although having good intent. Targeting sports groups etc though is less fraught with danger as it isn't bias to any one group and I agree that it's a good idea. It would be great to see current initiatives target this area. I think Defence could do this kind of placement much more broadly than it currently does and I remember getting a presentation from a former General who said Defence don't do this well, we don't know how to work out of our own environment. This certainly leads into your point that because of the low participation rate of females in Defence it is often difficult for men to even know how to relate with females in the workplace. I am not sure of the practicalities of implementation of such a project on a large scale, however, the idea is a good one. Last point should be a no brainer to have equipment designed for males and females. Out of time for now (lunch) but interesting discussion.

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