Gender equality and women's empowerment in the Australian Defence Force are "absolutely critical" to national security, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds is due to say today.
Senator Reynolds will tell an International Women's Day function that women have a leadership style that helps Defence do things "differently, and better".
"For a very, very long time, in the absence of female leaders, a certain male leader stereotype has been reinforced, promoted, and deferred to [and] there was little imagination or courage for any other possibilities," the minister will tell the function, hosted by the Institute of Public Administration Australia.
"We are learning more and more that organisations that embrace all forms of diversity and inclusion outperform those that don't."
The minister will tell the event that for "many years" during her career in the military she avoided discussions of gender.
"I wanted my performance to speak for itself. I believed that if I and other women worked hard enough, didn't rock the boat and fitted into our workplaces, we'd be promoted on our merit," Senator Reynolds is due to say.
It was only when she took part in the Broderick Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Forces that she changed her view.
"I saw that women could help Defence do things differently, and better. I started questioning my own leadership style. Along the way, I'd unknowingly adopted behaviours that didn't really reflect who I was or who I wanted to be - and my voice had been stifled," the minister will say, according to prepared remarks.
"Through this challenging process of self-assessment, I began to find my own voice and confidence as a female leader, which over time I found to be enormously liberating. I am a better Senator and a better Minister because of it."
Formal restrictions on women's service in the ADF were lifted in 2013, barriers to combat roles were removed in 2016 and Defence exemptions under the Sex Discrimination Act were scrapped in 2018.
According to the ADF's most recent annual report, women comprise 17.9 per cent of the armed forces, including 21.5 per cent of the navy, 22.1 per cent of the air force and 14.3 per cent of the army.
Their representation at the top of the services is even smaller. Just 22 of the 181 star-ranked officers were women as at June last year.
But there are signs Defence is making progress in its aim to have a quarter of all air force and navy personnel, and 15 of army soldiers, women by 2023.
Women now comprise 30 per cent of enlistments and, combined with improved retention, has boosted their overall numbers in the ranks of the ADF by 652.
In her speech, Senator Reynolds will say that, despite the gains, women still tend to have shorter Defence careers, due in large part to taking time off to have a family.
She will say that this is unacceptable.
"No longer can we allow a woman to be penalised in her career for her choice to be a mother, while few fathers are forced to make the same decision," Senator Reynolds is due to say.
"Defence, like all organisations, needs to ensure that dads are able, and encouraged, to share equally in parenting, so men and women have the same opportunities to contribute their best - to their careers, their families, and their personal education and growth."
In her prepared remarks, Senator Reynolds will also reflect on the horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children last week.
"For as long as women and children are being killed and harmed by violent partners and fathers, we have not achieved gender equality. Together, as leaders, as a society, we must confront this issue in our homes, our workplaces and our communities," she will say.