A change in command: Canadian military taking strides with gender equality
Published Monday, November 13, 2017 10:00PM AST
There are about 120 soldiers in this squadron of Gagetown's fourth engineer support regiment. Only two are women.
One of them is Heather Reibin, who commands the squadron.
"To me it's been very normal to be a female in this organization,” Reibin says. “I forget that some people might have any kind of issue because I haven't really encountered that."
Reibin has been in the military for 16 years. When she's not involved in training exercises, her career has included participation in multi-national overseas deployments. Reibin was deployed in Afghanistan in 2008 and worked with the provincial reconstruction team with a large majority of U.S. troops.
Those currently under Reibin's command say gender is increasingly being ignored.
"It doesn't matter if they're male or female,” says Sgt. Mike Pepin of the fourth engineer support regiment. “We're made up of people. As long as those people can do their jobs and are effective, that's all that matters."
Reibin says it’s relatively rare to have more than a couple women per unit.
“That being said, my last unit almost all of the officer commanders were female at one point, four out of five,” she says. “That was pretty amazing to see."
Engineers have always played a key role in the military, often responsible for building, demolishing, or clearing obstacles for other troops. Reibin wanted to be an engineer because it involves problem solving, and she found a welcoming environment.
"The engineers have always been very good at accepting either gender,” she says. “It just matters to get the job done, so I didn't really learn until later on that I was going to be kind of the minority."
More women are rising through the ranks and taking on key leadership roles in the Canadian Armed Forces, in an environment and a culture that has always been dominated by men.
The Canadian Armed Forces were among the first to allow women to serve in all occupations. The military has established an ambitious recruitment target, aiming to have women comprise one-quarter of all members within 10 years. Their numbers now stand at about 15 per cent.
Major Sandra Price is also posted to Gagetown. She is also Heather Reibin's sister. Price says they may have had a comfort level with the Canadian Armed Forces before enlisting.
“My father was military, so growing up he never pressured us to join the military, but it was something we sort of grew up with," she says. "I'd like to see more young women see the military as an option in a career."
Price also says gender is not a factor that either harms or helps when women are trying to advance into senior positions in the military.
"In most trades they want people that are smart and able to do the job and look after their soldiers, so I haven't seen it be an issue at all," she says.
"My dad always told me to be myself,” says Reibin. “I've always gone on the premise try to treat everyone as you would like to be treated."
Reiben may still be a minority, but she's gradually becoming less so as more women successfully rise through the ranks.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mike Cameron.