In the second in our blogs looking at RAF trailblazers in the run-up to International Women's Day, Air Vice-Marshal Elaine West tells us how important it was for her to clear the path for others. In 2013, she became the first female officer of all branches of the Armed Forces to reach the rank, following a 35-year career in the Royal Air Force.
When I was promoted to two-star I was taken aback by the media frenzy. Such is the Royal Air Force today, for me and my colleagues it was simply business as usual, and absolutely nothing like the big publicised fanfare. However, at the time, I suspect many still saw the military as a male-centric organisation despite the many positive changes in recent years.
Having signed up in 1978 as an aircraftwoman, I was enormously proud to accept my commission and subsequent promotions. Throughout my career, in all ranks and roles, I've thoroughly enjoyed being part of a team, being involved in exciting and innovative workstreams and, above all, privileged to work with so many talented people, whether they be male or female. The Royal Air Force has been leading the way in inclusivity for a number of years and I was lucky to be a small part of it.
On a personal level, I've enjoyed watching others follow in my footsteps, and in this regard I haven't been disappointed. We now have our first female three-star (Air Marshal Sue Grey – terrific!), a number of ladies who deservedly wear two-star rank, and a large number of ladies taking on highly regarded appointments and seriously demanding roles across all branches and trades. Such is the momentum and obvious talent pool that even more are likely to follow.
So, while I may have been the first, I know for sure there'll be many more as we look to the future. We have amazing ladies in uniform doing outstanding work in all corners of the world, so none of this should be a surprise. Long may this positive progression continue as we focus on rewarding individuals, regardless of gender.
The Royal Air Force continues to be a highly professional organisation with its people at its heart, so as we approach International Women’s Day let’s celebrate all our Royal Air Force ladies, past and present, for their professionalism, dedication and wider contribution to Defence.
Elaine became a trustee of the RAF Benevolent Fund in 2016. She is a member of the Welfare Committee.