The new head of Australia's space defence command has spoken candidly about bullying she has faced in the military, saying she was forced to dumb herself down to avoid criticism from men.
Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts said she faced horrendous backlash in a statistics class after receiving the highest score for an exam, prompting her to shy away from "standing out too much".
"It was just like, obviously you cheated or you copied or the lecturer just likes you because you're the girl in the class and they're giving you special consideration," she told an ANU Women in National Security podcast.
"That really taught me about what sort of backlash you could get. I wanted to be good at my job and not stand out too much, although that was pretty hard because you stood out as a woman anyway."
Air Vice-Marshal Roberts said it has only been in the past four or five years she had become comfortable in standing out and receiving awards.
Men would also ignore her perspective in meetings and only heed her point when it was brought up by other men, she said.
"In some meetings, I could say something, and it will not be heard and so I have my trusted guys who will say it again and then I'll claim it," she said.
But Air Vice-Marshal Roberts is no longer worried about being labelled as aggressive, assertive or with feminine characteristics.
"The longer you work with them, the more your voice is heard, the more that you can actually get everything across. But initially ... it's going to be tricky and you really got to work out how you're going to get your message across."
She also referred to society's unconscious bias towards the role of women in the defence force as inhibiting some from signing up.
"There's a couple of barriers in terms of joining and it's not the women - it's their parents. It's their parents' view of what the defence force does," she said.
Air Vice-Marshal Roberts said she had to learn that it was fine to cry at work without feeling weak.
"You certainly didn't cry where you can be seen," she said.
The inaugural space commander recounted how she was brought to tears when signing the certificate for her new role and cried with happiness in front of her boss.
"I'm like, 'Wow, I'm a space commander', and there were tears coming into my eyes (and) my boss is like, 'Are you alright?'
"It was just so funny because he'd never seen me do that. It was emotional and it was really exciting. Showing that level of emotion is important but we're sort of taught not to do that too often because it can be seen as weak."
Australian Associated Press
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