Skip to main content

Civilian of the Year

Nina Russell, the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) Diversity and Inclusion Director, has been named as the organisation’s Civilian of the Year 2023.

20 November, 2023

Nina Russell is a driving force supporting our diversity and inclusion journey at Defence, says her citation. Her actions continue to enhance the NZDF’s reputation and promote engagement, while influencing successful outcomes for all people.

She joined the Defence Force as Diversity and Inclusion Director in January 2019, having previously been a consultant for a variety of government clients, including the NZDF.

Nina, alongside her small team, constantly supports the vision of a Defence Force where every member feels included, safe, valued and able to reach their full potential.

Her respectful, humble and humanising way of coaching the benefits of diversity and inclusion, has seen some significant attitudinal shifts both within the NZDF, and externally, with the organisation recently winning the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles Supporter Award, as well as the All-Accor Progress Award and the overall Supreme Award at the Rainbow Excellence Awards.

Two years after adopting the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles, the NZDF furthered its commitment to gender equality with Nina leading the development of a gender equality charter.

Nina has shown great courage, tenacity and resilience to overcome barriers and push through positive change, gaining wide respect and mana across many public and private sector organisations and NZDF military partners, for her leadership and strategic vision. Actively pursued to provide advice and to speak at women in leadership conferences, Nina is also on New Zealand Gender Tick Advisory Board and has recently been appointed co-chair of the All of Government Women’s Network Steering Committee.

She says she grew up around uniformed people, with her father having been in the Army and then Police. Her mother also served in the Police, and while both her parents went on to different things their Army and Police connections were enduring.  Additionally, her grandfather on her mother’s side had been in the Army and her grandmother served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in the United Kingdom.

“My parents have always been very strong on being of service, on doing extra. It’s how we were brought up,” Nina said.

Working for the NZDF had been an “amazing privilege” for Nina.

“It’s an organisation with so many fabulous people, and doing so many good things. We are a value-driven organisation. The work is really interesting and no two days are the same.”

She said the awards tell her the organisation is on the right track. It’s not mission complete but heading in the right direction, she said.

“Our Diversity and Inclusion programme is growing. I have an amazing team and we’re supported by an executive leadership who are committed to positive change.”

Nina lives the NZDF values outside of work as a supporter of Women’s Refuge, Wellfed (a community group teaching people who to cook healthy food on a budget) and her local school fundraising committee - by providing parent help for many school events.