Thinking about culture at the ship level – introducing the Command Cultural Advisor

Lieutenant Commander David Dallin (left), Chief Petty Officer Carl Dixon (centre left), Lieutenant(N) Blythe McWilliam, the new Command Cultural Advisor, and Cdr Landon Creasy (right) at the Command Culture Advisor Townhall to brief new members of the ship’s company. Photo by S1 Lisa K. Wallace, Canadian Armed Forces Photo

Lieutenant Commander David Dallin (left), Chief Petty Officer Carl Dixon (centre left), Lieutenant(N) Blythe McWilliam, the new Command Cultural Advisor, and Cdr Landon Creasy (right) at the Command Culture Advisor Townhall to brief new members of the ship’s company. Photo by S1 Lisa K. Wallace, Canadian Armed Forces Photo

Capt Jeff Klassen
Public Affairs Officer
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Meet Lieutenant (Navy) Blythe McWilliam, the Royal Canadian Navy’s first, and currently only, Command Cultural Advisor. This is a new position created by HMCS Regina’s command team as a way of addressing cultural issues on ship.

An example of an issue occurred last year when the ship was alongside. Crew members were getting dropped off by people they knew, usually their partners, be it a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend. Rules were written in a way that permitted partners to come on base for this purpose. This seemed to be working for most people, but problems surfaced when one crew member was held up by extra questioning at the front gate as their same-sex partner dropped them off.

Lt(N) McWilliam heard about this, brought to Commander Landon Creasy, Regina’s Commanding Officer, and conversations began with senior staff. Within 48-hours the Base Standing Orders had changed to accommodate a wider range of persons dropping off members.

“My job is to keep an ear out, and look for instances where members of the crew are being hindered at their job because of some cultural aspect,” said Lt(N) McWilliam. “I then advise the ship’s command team on the issue, and help them in making a decision.”

Cultural aspects include gender, sexuality, family background, religion, or anything related to the unique, personal aspects of a person.

“I often deal with simple things, practical changes that ensure we are respecting the dignity of all persons. We want to make sure people are not disadvantaged because of who they are,” said Lt(N) McWilliam.

Another example involved Sea Training – a fleet-level group that analyzes how ship crews perform and then reports about ways they can improve.

While these reports are anonymized so as not to single out the failures of individuals, Lt(N) McWillliam noticed they used gender pronouns. Because there are fewer women in ships, this meant a person reading the report could identify who it was referring to when female pronouns were used. This was noticed and considered
unnecessary by Lt(N) McWilliam. As a result, higher level conversations ensued and Sea Training now uses gender neutral pronouns.

“We all tend to approach things from our own experience, so having someone who is enabled to come and tell you when something is not working right is extremely valuable to me,” said Cdr Creasy. “The ship’s command team is made up of three 39-plus aged white guys and we have to implement policies across a small city of around 250 diverse people. The Command Cultural Advisor position is to help us be better at that.”

It was modelled after the Gender Advisor role that has been implemented in many headquarters and operational planning groups. Cdr Creasy was supportive of the idea, so a similar position was created for the ship. He has also formalized the Command Cultural Advisor position in his standing orders.

“If there is one baseline across all the Canadian Armed Forces, it’s culture. Culture is the single most important line of defence. If we want to improve as a military, we have to be prepared to have difficult discussions in this area,” said Cdr Creasy. “It’s not about blame, it’s just about solving problems. If you see something going on here that makes you think that you wouldn’t want your loved ones coming to work here, then let us know so we can fix it.”

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Filed Under: Top Stories

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