The Canadian Armed Forces needs to nearly double the number of women it has been recruiting in recent years to reach its goal of having women represent one-quarter of all military personnel by 2026, according to an internal study from the Department of National Defence.
The study prepared by Defence Research and Development Canada, which is the research arm of the department, says the military must recruit around 3,500 women each year to meet its own internal deadline.
The Canadian Press obtained the study through the Access to Information Act.
However, over the past decade, the military has never recruited more than 1,850 women in a single year. While the study does not come to any conclusions about the feasibility of meeting it target, the numbers suggest the Forces would hard-pressed to declare mission accomplished.
"Although there was a slight rise in the number and proportion of women recruited into the CAF over the past three years, it has not reached a level necessary to achieve the goal of having women represent 25 per cent of the CAF by 2026," Defence Department spokesman Derek Abma said in an email.
The drive to grow female representation in the Forces stems grows from an order that chief of the defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance delivered in February 2016, shortly after he took command of the military. He said he wanted one in four service members to be women within the next decade.
The directive was part of a broader push to have the military better reflect Canadian society and coincided with efforts to eradicate sexual misconduct in the Forces, which had recently been flagged as a significant problem in the ranks.
New figures, however, show there has been only minimal progress in the intervening four years, with the percentage of those in uniform who are women having grown from 15 per cent when Vance issued his order to 15.9 per cent as of last month.
That was despite numerous measures and initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women in uniform, including targeted recruiting campaigns, improvements to family support and the focus on eliminating sexual misconduct.
Those initiatives will continue, Abma said, while the Forces' is also working on a new retention strategy for women by better accommodating their needs and those of their families without affecting the military's own operations.
"Efforts continue to have women consider the CAF as an employer of choice," he said. "As the CAF is an all-volunteer force, it is ultimately up to women to decide if the CAF is right for them. Joining the military is a personal choice."
Vance acknowledged in an interview with The Canadian Press last year that progress has been slower than expected, but added: "I would rather be criticized for trying and failing and making significant incremental growth than for not trying at all."
The military has had noticeably more success with regards to representation of visible minorities, which has grown to 9.2 per cent of all service members from 7.4 per cent in January 2017. The Forces' target is 11.8 per cent of those in uniform.
The percentage of Indigenous people remained largely unchanged at 2.8 per cent. The military's target is 3.5 per cent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2020.