OC Lizzie Cranfield on working in the Army

To mark International Women’s Day, OC Lizzie Cranfield joined the school assembly to talk about her experience of working in a male-dominated environment in the Army and ‘breaking the bias’. After studying English and Latin at Bristol University, Lizzie joined the British Army and was commissioned as an officer from Sandhurst to become a helicopter pilot in the Army Air Corps. She has since served in Germany, Afghanistan, Kenya, Northern Ireland, London and Middle Wallop.

Lizzie comes from a family of strong women, and is proud to count suffragette Emily Davison - known for throwing herself into the path of the King's horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913 to highlight the cause of women's suffrage - amongst her relatives, whilst her mother was among the first cohort of female airline pilots in the UK in the 1970s.

Lizzie has hugely enjoyed her time in the Army and says that her career has given her some incredible opportunities and unforgettable experiences. Whilst women make up just 10% of the Army as a whole, Lizzie commented that 'she has never been made to feel as though she doesn't belong'.

The Challenges
So what challenges has Lizzie had to face and overcome? She has countered recurrent feelings of Impostor Syndrome, and consciously had to build up her confidence and the belief that she can do just as good a job as her male counterparts, whilst coping with the fact that she naturally stands out from the crowd because she is female. She talked about other frictions associated with being a woman in the Army; the use of outdated ‘male-specific’ terminology, and various practical considerations sometimes appearing to be of lesser importance (such as female toilets and washing facilities) - all things that the Army is consciously addressing, to be more inclusive.

Building resilience
To deal with these challenges, Lizzie has built up resilience by ensuring a good level of physical and mental fitness. She talked about the importance of knowing your capacity for stress and 'taking action when overloaded' and 'switching off', by doing yoga or mindfulness (using the Headspace app). 'Self-value' was also key to building resilience - giving yourself credit for being as capable as your peers, armed with the knowledge that gender doesn't matter.

Learning from mistakes has been an important part of her journey, with Lizzie saying that 'failure is as valuable in life as winning' and that the key is learning from mistakes 'without letting them torment you'. Speaking up and learning to challenge, which Lizzie acknowledged that younger generations are generally good at, was also important, especially in situations where someone says something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Her final piece of advice, in terms of resilience, was to be a team-player; recognise where you can best apply your talents within the team and take part as much as possible, as this allows you to draw on the support of colleagues.

The value of diversity
Lizzie finished her presentation by extolling the virtues of diversity and the value that a wide range of thought and experience can bring. 'The current generation is good at recognising and accepting people for who they are' and this is exactly what the Army, and wider society, needs.