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Major Lyndsay Freeman

Major Lyndsay Freeman is an Army Officer, Chief of Army Scholar 2020 and Co-Founder of Propel Her, a Defence Women’s Leadership Series and Co-Founder of Women in Future Operations with UNSW. Lyndsay was also listed in the 2020 Young Women to Watch in International Affairs.

Lyndsay, thanks so much for chatting with us! Can you start by telling us a little about how you began your career in the Australian Army? What inspired you to join the Army? And has your career to date been what you thought it would be upon joining?

Going through school in Newcastle, I begged my parents to let me join the Australian Air Force Cadets (316 Squadron) at age 13 after finding a recruiting pamphlet. From my first ceremonial parade where I was selected to open the car door for the Parade Reviewing Officer (a role I took very seriously!) I knew that the military life was for me. I am someone who is driven and always looking to make positive change, and I’m never happy with the ordinary or mundane – and I knew very young that my career choice had to be exciting and challenging. And that’s exactly what I’ve got from the last 16 years in the Australian Army.

As an over-confident 18 year old, I joined the Australian Defence Force Academy in 2005 to obtain an undergraduate degree and start my training as an Army Officer. It was a culture shock coming from a free-thinking and liberated home where I was told I could achieve anything, to an organisation that was, in reflection, much more conservative. I’m not sure whether I’ve changed over the years or the organisation has changed, but I went from feeling like a very judged ‘other’ in those early years, to knowing my value and worth as an Army Officer (and I have been able to retain my progressive and feminist values).

My career has had its ups and down. I’ve navigated toxic people and workplaces, and I have not hit all my personal career goals, like deploying to the Middle East or on a United Nations Mission before starting a long infertility journey (which has a happy ending two times over, and as well as a happy ending for the amazing couple we donated our remaining embryos to!) But I have got to work with the most incredible and driven ADF members, and I am thankful to the military for shaping me into the unstoppable woman I am today.

From viewing countless Army recruitment videos, there seems to be a concerted effort to attract more women into the services, highlighting the flexibility of a career in the Army or other services. In your time with the Army, what changes have you seen from Army and the organisation in general to make a career in the Services more flexible and welcoming of diverse personnel?

The Army has come a long way since I joined in 2005, and it continues the journey to be an employer of choice for all Australians. I have found that the majority of Army leaders recognise both the importance of inclusivity and diversity to improve our warfighting ability, as well as flexibility and support to the workforce.

The ADF bought the Total Workforce Model into play in 2016 which allowed me to return to work part-time after the births of both children without it being classified as a ‘break in service’. The Army’s transparent promotion process acknowledges gaps in service, like maternity leave, so primary carers and those needing time for a myriad of personal reasons are not disadvantaged.

My views on flexibility may be controversial. I am an Army spouse as well as an Army Officer, so I advocate for flexibility equally - for both men and women - so that I have an equal chance to prosper in my own career with my husband as an Army Officer. Women are often cited as the example of why our organisation should have flexibility, but the Army is full of husbands, spouses and fathers who should be able to support their partner’s career without fear of being penalised. That’s true gender equality to me.

For those considering a career in the Army in 2021 and beyond, what advice would you give them or what questions should those considering a career in the Services be asking themselves before applying?

The Army has been a rewarding and challenging career for me, and I’ve been able to shape it over the years to align with my passion for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Being trained as a military practitioner means that my value is in applying a gender perspective to conflict resolution, military operations, and peace processes. Those considering an ADF career should look at how their own passions and interests can benefit others, and view military training and experience as a solid platform for them to progress into a position of influence to make positive change.

In my opinion, those who enjoy their ADF careers are those that hold a sense of service and a desire to be an active global citizen for the good of those under threat or living in less fortunate circumstances. They join with gratitude, curiosity and good humour (which you’ll need going through basic training). I implore those joining to put aside any sense of entitlement so they can truly embrace the ups and downs that a career in defence will bring.

You were recently chosen as the Chief of Army Scholar for 2020 (a scholarship program that enables high performing individual’s time to invest in academic research that will help inform the future of warfare for Army). This is an incredible achievement, congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about what being the Chief of Army Scholar means and what your study focus is?

Thank you for your congratulations! Although 2020 had its obvious challenges globally, the Chief of Army Scholarship made 2020 the best year of my career. I have studied a Master of International Development Practice at Monash University, which has allowed me to connect my passions (being gender, conflict and security) with my career direction.

My study focused on the Gender, Peace and Security aspect of conflict, peace building, and development. I’ve particularly enjoyed a focus on gender and cybersecurity, as well as looking at the future of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, in particular during this milestone year of its 20th anniversary.

In 2020 I was also fortunate to commence a two-year leadership program with the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue, called the Young Leadership Dialogue. And I co-founded the initiative ‘Women in Future Operations’ through the University of New South Wales, of which I am a Senior Visiting Fellow. This group was created to unite and leverage the diverse expertise of women working on issues that will impact the future security and operational environment military forces will face, and we were excited to partner with ASPI for our first series of working groups in 2020.

I was honoured to get my piece ‘The New War on Women: Weaponising Online Spaces’ published by BroadAgenda in October 2020, and was listed as one of the ‘2020 Young Women to Watch in International Affairs’ by the Young Australians in International Affairs – so 2020 was a big year!

This year I am the Senior Instructor Gender, Peace and Security at the Peace Operations Training Centre where I will oversee the suite of courses relating to the United Nation’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda and how it is operationalised in military planning. The network and resources I gained through my Masters study with the Monash Gender, Peace and Security Centre will surely prove valuable to bring back to the ADF’s Gender, Peace and Security community.

You also recently co-founded ‘Propel Her’, a series on women’s leadership in defence, can you tell us a little about this initiative and how it came about?

Squadron Leader Shamsa Lea and myself launched the Propel Her – Defence Women’s Leadership Series last year through Grounded Curiosity. Shamsa and I identified a gap in existing resources for professional development discussion geared towards women in a military context.

We publish short and thought-provoking pieces on topics like mentoring, networking, personal branding, intrapreneurship, imposter syndrome, and workplace mediation…to name a few. We have facilitated interviews with military leaders, and featured a number of incredible guest pieces from a diverse and inspirational group of defence and civilian women. Our purpose is to educate, empower and celebrate military women by providing a space to have the important and often overlooked conversations.

The response to Propel Her has exceeded our expectations, and we have some exciting things planned this year!

We’re really interested in hearing your thoughts on leadership, something you have written quite a bit about! What does good leadership look like to you, and what advice would you offer women who are interested in developing their leadership skills and experience?

One of the best bosses I worked for in the Army didn’t have the guise or manner of a stereotypical military officer. She worked hard and backed her team when it was needed – and we followed her example and worked tirelessly because we loved and admired her. She wasn’t loud or commanding; she didn’t let ego or pride stand in the way of crediting work to her team members. I was a Junior Officer when I worked for this boss, and it was first time in my career that I realised I could be my authentic self and still be respected as a leader.

My hope for Propel Her is that it would reach young women in junior leadership positions with the resounding message that I wish I was told years ago: You are enough just as you are, you are a leader just as you are, and the ADF needs your diverse thinking and valuable contribution to support its members and win future wars.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

I have just finished a Masters degree crammed into a year, so I have too many books piled up to read in 2021! (1) ‘What Works: Gender Equality by Design’ by Iris Bohnet; (2) ‘Half the Sky’ by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; (3) ‘A Planet of 3 Million’ by Dr Christopher Tucker; (4) ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes; (5) ‘1421: The Year China Discovered America’ by Gavin Menzies…and I’m waiting for a friend to lend me her signed copy of ‘Women and Leadership’ by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, but I think she’s scared by 2 and 4 year old kids will rip out the pages.

Finally, who inspires you?

She is going to kill me for mentioning her because she is so humble, but I remain inspired by Lieutenant Colonel Clare O’Neill who is a tireless advocate for all ADF members, and has been a supporter and voice of reason for all my outside-the-army-box initiatives.

Clare is a woman of action who isn’t scared to try and fail in the hopes of making the ADF a better organisation. In 2021, Clare has been appointed as the first female Commanding Officer of 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment (a regional force surveillance unit traditionally commanded by Arms Corps males). Her drive, authenticity, and the way she talks about her own career journey inspires me and many others.

Updated: 13 Jan 2021