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British Army leaders respond to the Atherton Report

The Ministry of Defence has responded to the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) Report on Women in the Armed Forces, linked to the Defence Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces Report, chaired by Sarah Atherton, that came out in July.

During the inquiry 4,000 servicewomen and female veterans were surveyed, and several female soldiers and veterans were invited to speak at the hearings, to share their experiences of military life – no holds barred.

The report, also known as the Atherton Report, highlighted that 90 per cent of those surveyed would still recommend a career in the Armed Forces, despite 62 per cent of them having experienced bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape or some form of harassment or discrimination during their military career.

Other areas under the spotlight included the Service Complaints system, for responding to unacceptable behaviour, which was cited as failing all personnel. Complaints also included ill-fitting uniform and body armour, which placed women at greater risk of harm in combat.

Whilst I am incredibly proud of the progress I have witnessed within the Army, we have more to do. More to ensure our servicewomen feel valued, supported and listened to. The British Army has committed to act. I am glad to be a part of driving further progress - today, every day, for us all. General Sharon Nesmith,
Director Army Recruiting

Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace said:

“While almost 90% of women who engaged with this inquiry said they would recommend a career in the Armed Forces, it’s clear further change is needed. I am grateful to all the women who contributed to the Defence Committee’s report, we’ve listened carefully and are implementing bold changes in response.

“Having tested the recommendations with our own Service Women’s Networks, we are embracing almost all of them – and in many cases actually taking them further. I look forward to continuing to work with them to hold all three services to account, and ensure we see meaningful progress.”

What our military leaders have to say

Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith said:

"No institution is beyond reform of its culture, behaviour and leadership. Whilst the Army has made encouraging progress, we are still some way from making the essential cultural changes necessary to ensure that we are as open, tolerant, fair and equal as all high-performing organisations need to be.

“There is nothing politically correct about improving how we treat each other and behave around one another.  This is about common decency and courtesy, mutual respect and the moral courage to do not just the right thing, but also the best thing.”

Commander Field Army and Gender Champion, Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse CBE, MC said:

“We must create a better environment for all personnel. In the first instance we must accept that there is a problem; only then can we improve as an organisation. That responsibility sits with everyone, especially the leadership. Creating a better environment for our servicewomen is creating a better environment for everyone; one where each person can fulfil their potential."

Director Personnel, Major General Paul Griffiths said:

“I am very proud to serve alongside, and had the honour to command, many servicewomen during my career. So, I find it astonishing that such a significant proportion of our fighting force, soldiers and officers, friends and comrades, have been made to feel less valued. The Atherton report has made me stop and think.

"More must and will be done. We need to redouble our efforts now. Not just today but every day. I thank all those who spoke out in the Atherton report, your actions are making a difference. Continue to speak out - I am listening and will act.”

Despite the high numbers of women who reported experiencing bullying, harassment or discrimination, to the HCDC Committee, nearly 90 per cent of those surveyed would still recommend the Forces as a career to other women. The focus is to do justice to that commitment despite the cultural challenges faced.

Director Army Recruiting, General Sharon Nesmith said:

“More of the same is not enough. Whilst I am incredibly proud of the progress I have witnessed within the Army, we have more to do. More to ensure our servicewomen feel valued, supported and listened to. The British Army has committed to act. I am glad to be a part of driving further progress - today, every day, for us all.”

What the Army is doing

The Army is already making strides to improve the lived experience for women, and in addition further measures have been agreed, including:

  • Making very clear to the Chain of command that termination of service is the sanction for medium and high-level cases of sexual misconduct, where the facts demand it.
  • Ensure that all Army leaders are trained and educated more effectively to recognise unacceptable behaviours and deal with them.
  • Mandate consent training across the Army.
  • Allocate £1.1 Million this year and onwards to service complaints that investigate bullying, harassment and discrimination cases.
  • Spend £13.7 Million now, to address equipment and dress shortfalls for servicewomen.
  • Set aside £1 Million per year to support innovative opportunities to enhance inclusion of the Army.
  • By Apr 22 an Audit will be conducted of all female facilities to ensure that sanitary provision is fit for purpose and is suitably located.
  • Review all policy and remove gendered language by April 22.
  • Army Personnel Centre will review personnel policy and career management processes affecting serving couples and report by Christmas.
  • Carry out independent academic research into why women leave the Army.
  • Carry out an examination, by April 22, to identify any structural or policy constraints that impact on women’s careers.

These measures form only part of the recommendations being adopted by the Army. Defence has also detailed measures here: Women in the Armed Forces: From Recruitment to Civilian Life - Committees - UK Parliament

What the Army has done since the Wigston Report in 2019

The Army has adopted a range of recommendations made by Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Michael Wigston’s report into unacceptable behaviour, including education programmes, more robust internal disciplinary procedures and raising awareness about available support. All personnel receive regular Respect for Others training and are made aware of how to report any unacceptable behaviour, including the SpeakOut Confidential Helpline.

Other measures implemented include immersive culture and behaviour training at the start of service and at regular intervals throughout, and more training on ‘bystanders’ so that people have the skills and confidence to intervene when they see inappropriate behaviour. The Royal Military Police also conducts Sexual Offences and Consent Training.

Current Army training around Values and Standards 

  • Military Annual Training Test 6 currently contains two modules, Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and Values and Standards (V&S) delivered by the unit Commander.  
  • Respect for Others Training is immersive D&I training delivered every 3 years to units by an external training provider.  
  • Dilemma, a new V&S training tool. It is a competitive game which can be played anywhere by 4-8 players and encourages discussion of a wide range of V&S related issues. This training tool is being used in the Army Leadership and Development Programme and is available for Commanding Officers to use within their units. 
  • Army Unconscious Bias Training forms part of the Army’s ongoing commitment to challenge unacceptable behaviours. This training is in support of the Army’s Values and Standards and was produced as a direct response to the 2018 Sexual Harassment Survey.  It can be used for group or individual online learning. 
  • The Army Leadership Development Programme includes sessions on D&I and V&S  
  • The Royal Military Police Consent Training provides soldiers with an understanding of consent based around the “Sex is like a cup of tea video”. The training is provided at the request of the Unit. 

Where can personnel find support?

Every unit has a comprehensive welfare system, which is widely publicised. The network includes the Unit Welfare Officer, Chaplain, medical staff and Equality and Diversity Adviser. Personnel also have access to the secondary welfare support through the Army Welfare Service, plus the Army confidential helpline – Speak Out Mil 96770 4656 or Civ 0306 770 4656