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“You’re too small and too feminine…you’ll never do what a man can.”

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: MOD Guard Service, Working at DIO

Women have ruled empires, made scientific breakthroughs, and achieved greatness across the ages, and yet it’s only in recent decades that real progress has been made in terms of workplace opportunity and equality. My name is Jo McKeegan-Brown and I’m the Head of the MOD Guard Service.  I’d like to use this blog to talk about International Women’s Day, and the need to continue to strive for equality and diversity.

Jo McKeegan-Brown OBE

We all face professional challenges at work. Here at MGS we’re going through a period of particular change and uncertainty. Firstly under the MOD Better Defence Estate strategy there are the plans to close various establishments and relocate my Head Office. Secondly there are on-going efficiency projects, which are designed to do more with fewer staff and resources. Thirdly the MOD is currently looking into the future provision of the unarmed guarding of its estate.

When faced by things like these it’s easy to forget the on-going challenges we face in terms of job and career opportunities, discrimination, equality, and prejudice.

I’ve had an amazing career with the Ministry of Defence, and over the last 39 years I’ve seen a lot of positive change. I can remember talking with my then manager about wanting to serve as a civilian logistics officer on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, like my male counterparts. He said:“Jo, you’re far too small and too feminine. You’ll never be able to handle a ship’s fire hose going full pelt or do what a man can do. Jo you will never go to sea.”

But a year later I proved him wrong when I was appointed as the Assistant Supply & Transport Officer on board the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, Fort Austin. I was the first MOD civilian female to go to sea, and although there were some challenging times during those two years, I set my mind to it and made it work.

This was one of a number of firsts I’ve achieved, which I guess is why people sometimes describe me as a ‘Trailblazer’ for women in the MOD. I’ve never set out to do that. I’ve only ever wanted to use my skills, experience and knowledge and to be allowed the same career opportunities as anyone else. Obviously as I’ve become more senior within the MOD I’ve become conscious of my position and achievements in terms of influencing others. That’s why I’m supporting International Women’s Day and its core campaign this year which is called ‘Be Bold For Change’. The UK has made good progress in terms of equality and diversity but we should never become complacent.

MGS guard Gemma Crake at work at RAF Henlow [Crown Copyright/MOD 2017]
One of the things I’m planning to do within the MGS is to be the Patron of a Women's Network, which I hope to launch in the spring of this year, whose slogan is: ‘On your own but not alone’. The idea behind this is to encourage female staff to reach their full potential both personally and professionally and to provide a confidential network to raise issues and concerns.  There should be no barriers to women in the 21st century, but I’m also keen we don’t look at this issue in isolation. We need to do more to encourage diversity in terms of our staff and the values and standards those staff uphold.

One of the things I’ve been impressed with during my first eighteen months with the MGS is our staff. We have some very hard working and dedicated people, who I believe have been under-valued in the past. We don’t just open gates and check passes; the job is much bigger than that.

People are our biggest asset. I want them all to do and be the best they can.  At the end of the day gender should not be a barrier, but to make that really happen we all need to play our part.

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  1. Comment by Sylvia Depaul posted on

    As an early female communicator, (I joined the RFA in 1997 and officially left in 2009; my last seagoing trip was in 2004), it wasn't the issue of being too petite for firefighting that was prevalent, but just the fact that I was a female. Things have indeed changed and my last few years in the RFA were extremely happy. I continue to work in the MoD in what could be perceived as a more male orientated area, however the staff are balanced, male and female, where if you are the right person for the job rather than the right gender, that is the most important issue and that is a huge leap forward.

  2. Comment by Sarah Browning -Lee posted on

    A great read, inspirational, thanks so much for blogging

  3. Comment by Brian Hill posted on

    I retired from the MGS in 2010 after a period of 17 years with them. As an Area Manager in charge of around 200 MGS officers I often found that there were good and bad in both gender when it came to the MGS officers. Whilst often the males were maybe a bit stronger physically the females were often much better at multi tasking and relating compassionately to situations. I believe that it is high time this old fashioned and out dated belief that a female cannot do a male job was put to rest. equal opportunity means exactly what is says and let the actual results of every individual be judged on that and not gender prejudice.


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