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OverWatch's big year

Thu 28 Nov 2013 In: Our Communities View at NDHA

OverWatch is closing a year where it’s marched in Auckland Pride and won a couple of awards with a conference centred on supporting workforce diversity. We check in on with the New Zealand Defence Force’s glbti support group after a busy year. Members of OverWatch made a massive impact when they marched in the Auckland Pride Parade, the first time ever members of the New Zealand Defence Force have taken part in such an event in uniform. OverWatch has only been around since January 2012, but 2013 has been a busy year. It lists its presence at Out in the Square in Wellington, the Big Gay Out in Auckland, and being voted as crowd favourite in the Auckland Pride march among its achievements. “[It was] a moment that made all of the participants, including civilian staff and friends and allies, incredibly proud,” the group says. Marching in the Auckland Pride Parade It also received the Diversity Award and the Supreme Award at the 2013 ANZ EEO Trust Diversity Awards, sent representatives to conferences in the USA and Europe, and continued building relationships with international friends and allies. Of course, it’s also there to provide support and advice within the Defence Force - it has been included in several wellbeing workshops and its member have been called upon individuals, commanders and managers to provide advice and insight. There is of course a rather tragic elephant in the room when the topic of gay members of the Defence Force and their wellbeing is raised – the case of Corporal Douglas Hughes, who last year took his own life in Afghanistan, after being rejected by a male soldier he had a crush on. However OverWatch is not allowed to comment on any specific cases, and has to comply with a blanket suppression order when it comes to Corporal Hughes death. Yet in generic terms, its message is clear. It says any members of the Defence Force questioning or struggling with their sexuality, or just having a hard time, need to talk to someone. “And if you don’t know who to talk to, talk to us. Every member of the OverWatch Management group is happy to be approached – and while we are not counsellors – we will listen without judgement, and will do what we can to find the help they need,” the group says. “We cannot stress how important seeking help is – both for those struggling or those who know someone who is.” OverWatch believes more and more organisations are understanding the importance of supporting their people – no matter their age, race, sex, orientation or identity. “Providing support for people means that they will be better able to perform the duties for which they are employed. It makes good sense for morale and retention of staff, for attracting the right people with the right skills, and for increasing effective productivity by ensuring people feel supported within their workplaces.” This all ties in to the thrust of the Pride in Defence conference, underway in Wellington. It comes 20 years since our armed forces lifted their ban on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in uniform or as civilian staff. The Defence Force says it has an ethical responsibility to ensure the needs of its increasingly diverse workforce are supported, and the conference is about building on this support and sharing knowledge with other “large and complex” organisations. Representatives from the Defence Force, police, academia, community groups and corporate New Zealand are among the 150 or so people attending. “By allowing a forum for discussion to take place, and ideas to generate, we can affect positive change in providing robust support that allows individuals to focus on the role they are employed to do, without fear or worry about peripheral concerns, such as acceptance in their workplace of their identity or orientation,” OverWatch says. The conference is backed by Defence Force bosses, and OverWatch says at a lower level the support of commanders and managers has also been vital – as being part of the group is a ‘secondary duty’. “There have been plenty of late night emails, and long hours of work to pull the conference together,” it says. OverWatch says without the visible and vocal support of its leaders, it could not exist. “We are extremely proud to work for an organisation that understands the importance of supporting its people, and demonstrates that support in real and tangible ways.” Follow OverWatch on Facebook here Jacqui Stanford - 28th November 2013    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Thursday, 28th November 2013 - 11:23am

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