Never once in Maj. Kayda Mercurio’s 18-year career in the Canadian Forces has she ever felt limited simply because she’s a woman.
Between the time the B.C. native joined the reserves on a part-time basis at 17 to become a vehicle technician, to years later, when she achieved officer status after joining the military full-time so she could pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical mechanical engineering, gender has never prevented her from advancing.
“Some people have a misunderstanding that when you join the military, you have to be able to haul 150 pounds and do all this crazy stuff,” she said. “In reality, you just have to be a person with drive, determination and motivation. If you’re a motivated individual, you can do anything here.”
Mercurio, 35, who is currently assigned to CFB Borden where she is serving with J3 Training and J5 Production in a coordination and training support role for some of the schools on base, agrees with the military’s long-term goal to bring more women into the organization.
Last month, chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance handed down a directive to have women make up for 25 per cent of the military’s personnel over the next 10 years. This will be achieved by increasing the number of female recruits by one per cent year over year.
Lt.-Gen. Christine Whitecross, who heads up Military Personnel Command, said the goal is “tangible” but admits it will be “difficult” given people’s perception of the military being better suited for men.
“(It’s) a fairly large effort for the next 10 years, but frankly it’s the right thing to do . . . we are not where we need to be,” she said.
To achieve the enlistment target, Whitecross said the military has to increase its women recruits up to 1,700 of the 4,200 people who join annually.
Based on Mecurio’s experience, she said it’s hard to see why more women don’t enlist.
She suspects it may have something to do with the kind of opportunities girls are exposed to.
Growing up, Mercurio was allowed to do everything with her family, from fishing, to working on the house and her parents’ cars.
“I guess it comes down to the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know,” she said.
“I never had any limits but I guess if you grew up in a family where you weren’t exposed to those opportunities, you wouldn’t even think to go there.”
Mercurio has had many career highs, from obtaining a university degree at no cost, to serving at bases around the country and spending 18 months in the UK with the British Special Forces on an ammunition course.
While she is enjoying her current assignment, she is always thinking of where her career will take her next.
“At some point I’d like to do a masters degree,” she said, adding she could also pursue a new trade if she chooses to do so.
Though there have been times when she was the only female serving in a particular situation, she never experienced any kind of discrimination because of this.
All that mattered was how well she performed, she said.
“I’ve worked along men and women and never really noticed a difference,” she said. “I treat everybody exactly them same and I get treated the same.”
– with files from Torstar