With a career of firsts, RAdm. Jennifer Bennett is using her more than 40 years of experience in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to influence a positive change in her position as the Director General Canadian Armed Forces Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct.
Considering her trailblazing career and the fact that Bennett joined the military at a time where women had limited opportunities, running Operation HONOUR on behalf of the chief of the defence staff brings Bennett’s career full-circle and allows her to leave a significant mark before she retires.
“For me, it was an opportunity to be able to address a very serious issue within our institution, and be able to give back, and to influence positive change, and to initiate a culture change across an institution in which I’ve also seen a lot of evolution,” said Bennett.
Bennett joined the military in 1975 as a naval reservist. At that time, the military was running a summer program for students, allowing them to have summer jobs with the military and get a taste the military life. Bennett joined that program.
“It was a great opportunity for people, who otherwise might not have considered a military career, to experience to the military,” recalled Bennett.
Although someone else had suggested the program to her, Bennett grew up with her father serving as a naval reservist as well.
“I had seen some of the great opportunities that my dad had with the Navy, and he was also a reserve able to balance his military career and civilian career. So, as I got more into it, I realized, through sort of my dad’s experience, what the opportunities were. I found that kept me going as well,” recalled Bennett.
Since then, Bennett’s enjoyed a career of firsts by becoming the first Canadian female Rear Admiral, the first reserve female to achieve ranks and the first female chief of reserves and cadets. Throughout her career, she’s assumed command roles, at the unit and formation level, all while balancing a career as an educator.
“I think some of the most memorable moments were the times in which I had an opportunity to lead and to influence organizations; and, so, having achieved command of the naval reserves was a huge milestone in a memorable career. What made it even more memorable was that when I joined my dad held that position. He was a commodore and senior naval officer when I joined. So, I achieved the position and rank of my dad and, of course, now I’ve been promoted higher, but I think that was a really proud moment to be able to command and lead an organization in which I had basically grown up and served,” shared Bennett.
Over the course of her career, Bennett has seen many changes and doors opening for women in the military.
“I’ve seen a huge amount of change and evolution because I started at a time where things were only starting to open up for women. It (heading Operation HONOUR) allows me to be able to create positive change and to ensure we have a workplace free of harassment and discrimination for anyone who considers joining and serving with forces,” added Bennett.
It is because of her career both as an educator and serving as the military chief of cadets and the Junior Canadian Rangers, that she was chosen for her current role.
“Part of the reason I was selected was because I had the background and expertise in this subject matter, but, also, dealing with highly complex institution-wide issues,” noted Bennett.
Reflecting back on such a successful and memorable career, RAdm. Bennett recommends a military career to any women.
“I would highly recommend women consider a career in the military for many reasons. There are amazing opportunities and possibilities to work well beyond what you may think your personal potential is, and I think that now every opportunity is available to women,” said Bennett.