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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 pamphlet. From my first 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 15 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 some 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 now where I know my value and belonging is as an Army Officer (and I have been able to retain my progressive 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 UN 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 unused 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 (currently Commanding Officer of the Australian Defence Force Academy). 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 2020 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 personal interests in gender equality, particularly during conflict and peacekeeping/peacebuilding. 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 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! I write this as my Chief of Army Scholarship year comes to an end, so my answer is more of a reflection. This has been the best year of my career. I have been studying 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 has focused on the Gender, Peace and Security aspect of conflict, peace processes, 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.

This year I have been fortunate to complete my first year of a two-year leadership program with the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue. And I co-founded the initiative ‘Women in Future Operations’ through UNSW 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 this year!

I was honoured to get my piece ‘The new war on women: Weaponising online spaces’ published by BroadAgenda in October, and was listed as one of the ‘2020 Young Women to Watch in International Affairs by the Young Australians in International Affairs – so it’s been a big year!

My next posting is as the Senior Instructor of the Gender, Peace and Security course at the Peace Operations Training Centre (Australian Defence College, Weston Creek). The network and resource base I have created through my study will be extremely 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? 

Myself and SQNLDR Shamsa Lea were very excited to launch the Propel Her – Defence Women’s Leadership Series in August this year (via Grounded Curiosity). Shamsa and I identified a gap in existing resources for professional development resources geared towards women in an Australian military context. We also found there were perceived barriers among women when publishing in a PME context. 

We publish weekly articles ranging from specific topics (mentoring, networking, personal branding, intrapreneurship and innovation) to interviews with prominent military leaders, to guest authors (which is our platform to enable women to be published in a PME context). Our purpose is to educate, empower and celebrate military women. Our articles all link to multiple resources for further reading.

The response to Propel Her has exceeded our expectations! We leverage social media platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn) and have just as many male readers as female. Our articles have been picked up internationally- with interest from RNZDF, US DoD, UK MoD and industry publications. There is clearly a craving for authentic, useful information that can be instantly applied to a reader’s career path. 

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’ve had in the Army didn’t have the charisma or charm of a stereotypical military officer. She worked tirelessly and backed her team when it was needed – and we followed her example and worked hard because we loved and admired her. She wasn’t loud or commanding; she didn’t let ego or pride stand in the way of apologies or for 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 feminine self and still be respected as a leader in the Australian Army.

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

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Only three books piled up at the moment as study is getting in the way of my casual reading! (1) ‘What Works: Gender Equality by Design’ by Iris Bohnet; (2) ‘Against The Wind’ by Jennifer Wittwer; (3) ‘A Planet of 3 Million’ by Christopher Tucker…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 3 year old kids will rip out a page. 

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 members of the ADF.

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 will assume the role of 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: 18 Nov 2020