One of the many lines to leap out of the Independent Review Group’s report on the Defence Forces published this week is that women are “barely tolerated”.
That, the IRG report notes, is the best-case scenario.
At its worst, the organisation “verbally, physically, sexually and psychologically abuses women in its ranks”.
This kind of attitude manifested itself further through what the report describes as a “discernible pattern of rape and sexual assault”.
It was also evident in the fact that three-quarters of female recruits who have experienced unwanted physical contact or assault did not report the incident.
None of those surveyed by the IRG contacted the gardaí about what had occurred, irrespective of how serious it was.
“To be female is to be considered an object rather than a full human being,” the IRG report states of attitudes in the forces.
That this would today be an attitude prevalent in the workplace beggars belief.
The report goes on: “In the 40 years since women were first allowed to join the Defence Forces, it appears that no thought has gone into researching, thinking about, or describing a Defence Forces soldier who is female.
"The Defence Forces appears to have adopted an ‘add women and stir’ model. No consideration appears to have been paid to identifying the capacities and strengths of female soldiers. No thought or preparation went into elements like uniforms, boots, and facilities.
Much of this points to an organisation living in the past when the workplace was almost entirely a man’s world.
For instance, in 1970, females made up just 29.5% of the global workforce. By 2021, this has ballooned to 59.8%.
In Ireland, the change has been even pronounced as the country changed from being underdeveloped to a first-world country.
“The total number of women in the workforce in Ireland is 1.2m,” the IRG report states.
“These figures show that the rate of female participation in the labour force has increased in tandem with Ireland’s accession to the EU, the ending of the marriage bar in the civil service, significant advances in educational attainment by females, and the growth and development of the Irish economy.”
Yet, within the Defence Forces, there are just 603 women out of a full complement of 8,600, representing just 7%.
Taking into account that the forces are also disciplined entities with a strict hierarchical culture, one might wonder whether much of the problem is simply down to the low level of female participation in which a misogynistic culture could be easily disguised and covered up until some brave women finally were able to come forward in recent years.
It is certainly the case that other sectors of the workforce have adapted and changed as formerly male-dominated.
According to sources in the human resources sector, this is not always the case.
The problems highlighted in the IRG report, as they pertain to women, have far more to do with the culture of the organisation than the level of female participation.
This was evident two years ago in a report into the workplace for solicitors, conducted by the Law Society.
One out of every two female respondents to a survey had experienced sexual harassment, as had one out of eight male respondents.
Equally, a high proportion of those who said they had experienced harassment had not reported the matter.
It would appear a major increase in female participation in a sector does not lead to a change of culture.
Ethel Gavin, a retired prison governor, says she could relate, to some extent, to the IRG’s report as it relates to women being expected to fit into a man’s world.
“When I joined first there was an element of that,” she says.
“For instance, there weren’t even women’s toilets in the prison when I first joined. And the former inspector of prisons, Michael Reilly, used to suggest that he felt a lot of women when they joined simply conformed to the male type of culture, you know, cursing at work and that kind of thing.
"He felt that women were to some extent losing their identity in efforts to fit in better. I think, certainly in the past, that was accurate to a degree.”
Today, about one in 10 prison officers are women.
Ms Gavin says sexual harassment exists in the prison service as it does in most workplaces, but she thinks neither the culture nor the low participation rate for females has a major impact on that.
“I was aware of a couple of cases of sexual harassment before I left,” she says.
“There was one instance where two female staff had been in contact with a senior male staff member on social media and it got out of hand.
"There have naturally been other incidents but nothing that I would consider above and beyond what goes on in the workplace in general.”
The Independent Review Group report on the Defence Forces has been an eye-opener for most people and highlights how elements of the workplace are really living in the past.
However, while the Defence Forces may be an outlier in terms of the extent of unacceptable — and sometimes criminal — behaviour towards women, it certainly is not alone in harbouring a culture that continues to live in the past.