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Anchored in strength

Join the Royal New Zealand Navy as they celebrate International Women’s Day. Hear from Emma, Hailey, Rose, Dana and Alex about life in Te Taua Moana as a sailor and their thoughts on being wāhine in the New Zealand Defence Force.

08 March, 2024

Leading Hydrographic Survey Technician Rose Blenkarne

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LHST Rose Blenkarne 1

Leading Hydrographic Survey Technician Blenkarne says it is inspiring seeing confident women in the Navy, which helps others step forward. She tells her story:

I joined in 2018 to do something different that I could look back on and be proud of.

“I’m the Navigation Assistant on HMNZS Manawanui. My day varies between Navigation system updates, seaboat coxswain duties, watchkeeping and other auxiliary things that I do on board.

I am from Auckland, so I consider myself lucky to still be able to see my family regularly. My interests include getting outdoors and spending time with my family and friends.

An achievement that I am proud of was getting recognised for my coxswain duties on board Manawanui. There was a period of time that I was the only qualified boat coxswain on board. It gave me a massive sense of pride to be able to conduct not only my primary job but also the job of coxswain to a high standard.

“The Navy’s investment in women means we see more females with confidence in their roles due to more support from other females in a higher position. This has led to seeing more females willing to put their hand up for things that they may have typically in the past not have done, due to it being more male orientated.

The Engineering Officer on-board Manawanui, Lieutenant Commander Clare Talbot, has inspired me since I have posted here. Its inspiring and empowering to see a woman in a heavily male-dominated trade or role. The way she delivers the needs of the department while also having a wealth of knowledge behind her shows younger sailors like myself that it is possible to work your way up through the ranks while in a male-dominated trade. She also advocates for the females on-board and encourages us to go further.

“For the future, I would like to see more investment into women’s health and awareness around women’s health both physical and mental.

Emma Gill

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Emma Gill, a former Royal New Zealand Navy Writer, is a Defence Force civilian working at No. 6 Squadron, RNZAF Base Auckland. She tells her story:

“I’m the eldest of seven siblings, raised in Kopuku near Maramarua, Waikato. Over the years I have had three sons and one daughter and I’m now a grandmother of five mokos. I’m Māori, descended from the Bay of Islands as Ngāpuhi/ Ngāti hine of Waiomio to Dargavilleare where my ancestors resided.

I love spending family time with my husband, kids & mokos. Being involved in netball (coaching, managing) with kids school teams, Kidzplay Umpiring mentor and I’m a Girl Guides Leader as well as a committed member of the RNZN Womens Association which meets every month.

“A lot of family have served in the Navy: a younger sister, my sister in law, two cousins and an uncle.

My proudest moment was my own Navy graduation in 1999, a first for a solo mum, aged 29 years old, with 3 boys aged 8, 7 and 5.

“I have always been inspired by the ex-service women of yesterday, as without their courage and commitment I would not have stood a chance when I joined in 1999.

I believe the Defence Force is doing well and on track. They enable all women the opportunity to enhance their skills to sit alongside or above their counterparts in any senior leadership role.”

Leading Combat Systems Specialist Hailey Gibbons

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Observation hill

Leading Combat Systems Specialist Gibbons joined the Navy in 2004, aged 17, looking for travel and adventure. Read her story below:

I love International Women’s Day. I read the articles every year; I find support, motivation and a continued sense of purpose in the words of our people.

I work at Joint Forces and a typical day for me is spent juggling the needs of deployed personnel and the needs of my kids. My five-year-old son has plans to join the Army because he thinks the Army is the coolest. My kids also think the thing I love to do out of hours is being their personal taxi driver.

Over the last three years I have been fortunate enough to experience life through both military and civilian employment. During that time I worked for the Director of Transport for a local government agency. He is the boss I credit with having the most positive impact on my journey so far, with a supportive and trusting working environment. I was able to support my kids, gain civilian qualifications in emergency management, and participate as an active Navy reservist at HMNZS Toroa. My favourite aspect about his management style was that he never made me feel less important or not as effective as anyone else on his team, despite my family circumstances. He was able to individually support my family and personal goals as much as he did my professional and the organisation's ones.

The Navy I remember is what drew me back, but the support I get now allows me to see a brighter future. I hope to see female leadership create a balanced and collaborative viewpoint to command the Defence Force.

I found myself supported enough to deploy upon USGCC Polar Star, an American icebreaker, for an eight-week voyage for Operation Deep Freeze 2023/24.  Eight weeks at sea can seem like an impossible feat for a solo mum, but it was something that I wanted to achieve, something to accelerate my progress both professionally and personally. The key investments being equal opportunity, flexibility and support from multiple sources.

To me, investing in wāhine progress is important for organisational growth.

“Creating equal opportunities is great, but we can better it by creating an environment that supports our opportunities and provides equal benefit, something that can be an advantage to us all.”

Able Marine Technician (Electrician) Dana Costello

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Able Marine Technician Costello says she’s wanted to join the Navy since she was 12. She tells her story here:

“I have a passion for problem solving, getting my hands dirty, pulling things apart and fixing them. When I was growing up I wanted to be like my Dad – he was a Marine Technician as well. I also grew a deep love for the ocean. So it was a given that I would join the Navy as a Marine Technician.

“I joined the Navy in 2020 and I’ve been posted on board HMNZS Manawanui since May 2023. My day starts with a morning meeting with my team, we talk about the goals for the day. We then split into our parts of ship within the trade. I am ME04 which is the electrical part of ship. Working alongside my Leading Hand, other Able Fates and Ordinary Rates we start completing jobs on our FMMS list. FMMS are our planned and breakdown equipment maintenance jobs, making sure all our machinery is safe and well maintained.

“I have a lot of really proud moments over my Navy career. One recently was being able to help in the remote Fiji Islands with disaster relief after the cyclone last year. I got to meet so many special people, it really was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“My former head of Maritime Engineering School, Lieutenant Commander Clare Talbot, is the Marine Engineer on board. She has had a huge impact on my journey. I just thought it was so inspiring that a woman could be in that position as Head of School and it gave me a lot of faith that I could be successful too one day. Clare has also been supporting me through my training on Manawanui and pushing me to complete my task book. It has been amazing having her as our Engineer on board as she offers so much to the team and is someone I can always talk to.

Sub Lieutenant Alex Dooley

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Sub Lieutenant Dooley is HMNZS Manawanui’s Assistant Maritime Logistics Officer (AMLO). She tells her story:

I was born in England as my Dad was in the Royal Navy but we moved to Auckland when I was seven.

I joined the Navy in 2022 to do something new that would challenge me and be something that would allow me to continually learn.

“As the AMLO in Manawanui, my day varies depending on what the ship is doing but I’m currently beginning the planning cycle for our next deployment. This starts in a few weeks and involves looking into all the logistical considerations for the duration of the deployment.

“I’ve come into a Navy that has females in senior leadership or positions of power and influence, which provides a benchmark to work towards and lets new, younger females know that they will be able to progress their careers any way they want.

I think the Navy has opened a lot more doors for females, providing them with the confidence to put their names forward to do things that may have originally been male-dominated in the past.

There are so many females that have inspired me in my short time in the Navy. Significantly, Commander Paula Dacey, who is the Commanding Officer Leadership Development Group. She is a wealth of knowledge in relation to our trade, but also approachable, supportive and inspiring. Though I wasn’t in attendance when she took command, it was noted that her speech drew on the themes of being a small female who can be overlooked or underestimated but essentially, do not judge a book by its cover. I find that so powerful and empowering as a young female officer wanting to essentially follow in her footsteps.

“There is also our own Commanding Officer of Manawanui, Commander Yvonne Gray. She is another strong female who has shared some of her journey with us, who had to overcome a lot of challenges being a female in a time when the Navy was still very much made for men. Even now it is still surprising among a lot of people outside the Navy that the Captain of a ship can be a female, and while it has become commonplace for us I think it is something we shouldn’t take for granted and we should admire the work that went in to get there in the first place. She shows the young sailors on board that it is possible to work your way through the ranks in a role that was so male-dominated in the past. She advocates for the females on board and encourages us to push and challenge ourselves to make the most of our career.

“For the future I would like to see more investment into women's health. Although again it has come a long way, there is still a lot more that can be done.

Additionally, looking into career progression while having children is something that can be worked on more. It’s a subject talked about by a lot of young females who are wanting to have families in the future but feel like that would impact their career, as it means they can’t go to sea or get put in a position that prevents them from progressing.