I’d always been the tomboy. The one girl amongst the group of boys.
This continued when I joined the Army reserves. I had nine other women on my officer training course but invariably, for whatever reason, I was the only female in the section whenever we went field.
The turning point for me came when I was a Regimental Logistics Officer (S4), and one of two female officers in the unit. One of my colleagues in current operations (S33) remarked one day, “you’re not like other girls, you’re just a cool dude with long hair”. At the time I laughed. Later that night, I mentioned it to my husband and said, “I know it was meant as a compliment but something just doesn’t sit right”. That year was also the year I made my first lasting friendship with another woman serving in the military.
However, it wasn’t until I worked in a workplace (Defence Force Recruiting) with a higher proportion of women that I realised what was going on. My attitude was terrible, and in my first year I was viewed as aggressive, angry and difficult to deal with by the civilians that I worked with. Then, in my second year, I read a quote: “Girls compete with each other, real women empower one another” and problematic as that quote is, it was the catalyst for me to start lifting up those around me.
I had always encouraged other women but had never been good at working with them. I didn’t trust them and I thought they were all out to undermine me. When I changed my own frame of mind, I saw an immediate difference in my relationships with women. I spent two years working in Defence Force Recruiting and the second year was one of the most rewarding of my career. I finally loved mentoring and working with other women. That was the last time I worked in a predominantly female work environment.
My next job I was one of three women, the job after that I was the only woman in the team and the job after that was the second time that my boss had been a woman (Recruiting being the first), and her boss was also a woman. By that time, I’d been in the Army for 15 years. It was this boss who was the first woman to mentor me and encouraged me to excel. This boss gave me an opportunity to get involved in Women’s Rugby on a large scale, and her faith in me led to a fantastic adventure that I am still on. It was the Recruiting posting, however, that completely changed the way that I lead and interact with other women. I no longer see women as a threat to me and my position in the Army. It was that attitude shift during my time at Recruiting that enabled everything that followed.
Two years ago I was the only female Sub-Unit Commander in the Brigade during my first year of command. My fellow Sub-Unit commanders were fantastic and supportive but I missed the support of another woman and at times felt quite lonely in command. With no peer support network of women in location, I used Rugby as my outlet to build up women within the Brigade and found a new network ranging from Infantry soldiers to boat operators and artillery Lieutenants. These women are all examples of what we can achieve in a male-dominated workplace while building each other up. We don’t have to love every woman that we work with, or be their best friend but neither should we actively work to undermine the efforts of those women.
No, I’m not a cool dude with long hair. I am a woman and I am just like other women; strong, ambitious and determined.
About the author
Rebecca Marlow is a currently serving logistics officer of the RAEME persuasion. She is an avid reader, Rugby Union tragic, occasional tweeter and perpetually trying to improve her writing.