Managing difference in Defence: the battle with banter


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The path to acceptance in Defence’s “bastion of white men” is a little ritual humiliation, or turn it back on the attacker. The Mandarin obtained Dr Elizabeth Thomson’s report into culture.

Battling with Words report

Battling with Words report

Women and minorities who are willing to subject themselves to a little ritual humiliation, or turn it back on their attacker, can gain legitimacy in Defence’s “bastion of white men”.

Dr Elizabeth Thomson’s Battling With Words report into Defence’s sociolinguistic culture — first revealed by The Mandarin on Monday — is critical of the way the three uniformed services create team membership, which is based more on unconscious affinity bias than fit for purpose. In contrast, public service teams in Defence were less likely to exclude based on irrelevant personal attributes like sexual orientation, gender, heritage background, religious belief or physical disability.

Tightly bonded teams are essential in high risk, dangerous environments, and will typically favour individuals who reflect the standards and attributes of the dominant group, the research found. The higher the risk to safety, the more tightly bonded the team needs to be, and the tighter the bond, the more likely exclusion will occur. Thomson calls this “knower code” culture from legitimation code theory, and is exhibited by all three uniformed services, but most acutely in the Australian Army. In authority terms, this means “do as I say because I am who I am”. Defence’s APS teams, however, had a “knowledge code” culture that is motivated more by qualifications, skills and expertise, along the lines of “do as I say because I know”.

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