UK & World News

  • 4 December 2013, 6:02

British Armed Forces 'Could Be Run By A Woman'

The British Armed Forces could be run by a woman one day, the nation's most senior female military officer has suggested.

In her first interview since being promoted, Air Vice-Marshal Elaine West told Sky News that the military is modernising to mirror society and insisted that the UK is not out of date by preventing women from fighting on the front line.

She said: "I wouldn't say we are. It might not be absolutely everything but we are making progress and we are reflecting what is going on in society.

"We've had fast jet female pilots for a number of years going back to the nineties. We have people in Afghanistan at the moment who are there both in the medical profession, but also aircraft mechanics who are flying.

"We've got females now who are flying Apaches. We're about to have females coming through to go on submarines on active service. So this is truly an evolving situation."

However, despite more jobs being available to females, only 67% of jobs in the Army are open to women, although the RAF (96%) and Navy (71%) are more inclusive.

The Armed Forces are exempt from the Sex Discrimination Act which is why they are able to restrict women from serving on the frontline.

Asked if she could foresee a day when a woman is appointed Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Vice-Marshal West believed it possible.

She said: "Why not, why not? You wouldn't rule anything out would you? We're evolving with the rest of society, we're no different to outside industry and there are opportunities."

Air Vice-Marshal West's appointment as the country's first two-star ranked woman was announced in August.

She is now responsible for projects involving the Ministry of Defence's infrastructure estate, from accommodation buildings to runways and dockyards.

Since joining the RAF 35 years ago as an Aircraftwoman, the lowest rank, she has served in a variety of jobs around the world.

Her husband was formerly a Navigator in RAF fast jets but has since left the service.

The couple have one son and Air Vice-Marshal West does not accept the idea that a woman must make a decision between a family or a career in the military.

She said: "There are girls I know at the moment, colleagues, who have more than one child, who juggle a huge amount more than I do.

"Yes I had one child, but it is all about work-life balance.

"I think the armed services can provide that. It's challenging, there are occasions when maybe I don't quite get it right. But you know it works and it can work."

Women are still a minority group in the British military. The latest diversity report published in October shows that females make up 9.8% of the regular forces.

There are 8,340 women in the Army, 3,010 in the Navy and 4,950 in the RAF, the largest proportion of all three services.

But Air Vice-Marshal West said she had never worried about a glass ceiling for women in the military.

She said: "I've never worried about it. If there has, gosh, I've never truly thought about it. I think it is fair to say that people in the military are promoted on merit and that's really important.

"I don't know anybody, certainly colleagues of mine, female colleagues of mine, that would wish to be promoted ahead of the pack without being promoted on merit. It's really important with that merit goes credibility."