#HeForShe – Danny Cairns

In our latest #HeForShe interview, we’re honoured to feature Danny Cairns, a Royal Navy Air Traffic Control Officer and the Co-Chair of the Royal Navy’s LGBTQ+ Network. Danny’s journey from Barbados to Guam has not only shaped his worldview but also his commitment to fostering inclusive environments where every individual’s gender identity and sexual orientation are celebrated. This interview delves into Danny’s perspectives on career planning, the power of networking, and the importance of being a vocal ally for women and LGBTQ+ communities within Defence. Join us as Danny shares actionable steps for men to become better allies in the workplace and highlights the significance of leadership in promoting diversity and inclusion.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background, and your current role?

I’m Danny Cairns, a 27 year old serving Royal Navy Air Traffic Control Officer. Whilst Air Traffic is my trade, my role today is much more centred around people and their training. From Barbados to Guam, I’ve been very lucky to have supported a variety of communities around the world, each of them imprinting a small part of their culture on my day-to-day outlook. In June 23, I had the honour of being selected to be the Co-Chair of the Royal Navy’s LGBTQ+ Network; a role that I take very seriously. Every member of the Royal Navy has a gender identity and sexual orientation that deserves to be represented, supported and of course, celebrated.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

At no point have I ever sat down and planned my career out. I honestly think that’s why I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve done as much as I have. My motivation for getting out of bed every day is the people I’ll encounter at work; hearing their stories, reliving their experiences, and wanting to experience them myself. People really are incredible when you provide them the tools to prosper effectively.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

The one thing that has allowed me to succeed in my career is networking. I cannot stress enough how fortunate I am to have met the incredible people that continue to inspire me every day. They are, and continue to be, the major factor to my success. 

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

In my 7/8-year career, I’ve faced multiple challenges; emotionally, professionally, mentally. I’ve even faced toxic masculinity calling me “too feminine to succeed”.  I was already a vocal ally of women but if I was facing such comments as a cis man within Defence, I could only imagine the misogynistic comments that women may face. 

As a male ally, do you believe the defence sector is where it needs to be in terms of gender equality and why?

Do I believe the Defence Sector is where it needs to be in terms of gender equality? No, I don’t. The United Kingdom is 51% female, yet Defence is barely 20% let alone if you then look at the percentage of women in leadership. There is so much more that we need to do within Defence to allow Women, LGBTQ+ and other communities to reach the top of the ladder. The first female head of a service isn’t representative of progress, a continuous presence with supportive comments surrounding the individuals is.

What more needs to be done to allow all individuals to bring their authentic self to the workplace?

Progress within the workplace starts with good leadership, effective management, and accountability. A leader, regardless of gender, should be creating an environment where anyone can prosper. This is easily achievable by allowing frank yet respectful conversations to educate. What affects women at work but doesn’t affect men and how do we mitigate that? How can career management affect heterosexuals differently to homosexuals and does this affect retainment? Conversations like these allow everyone in the team to understand why decisions and policies are made. Effective management and accountability go hand in hand. We need to separate “competent” from “decent human being”; can someone do their job? Brilliant. Should they be promoted? No because they’re an evidenced creep/misogynist/homophobe which are all attributes completely unbecoming of a leader. 

Have you noticed a trend towards a more diverse recruitment policy within the Royal Navy?

Recruitment within the RN seems more diverse but in general those joining today seem prouder to be themselves from the start. Younger “snowflake” generations today are given a bad reputation by the press and are totally misunderstood. I absolutely wouldn’t label anybody “weak” if they are able to stand and confidently say “I am me” to any person or organisation. The recruits and officer cadets of today are inspirations. 

Why is being a male ally important to you?

Being a male ally is so important to me because of a variety of reasons, some are simple lessons we learn as children, “treat those as you’d like to be treated”. Some are common sense – “My support network is largely female, so I should be showing the same level of support”. Men, you wouldn’t allow a man to speak to your mother/sister/daughter etc. in an unrespectful way so why allow yourself to become a bystander when another man is talking to someone else’s mother/sister/daughter etc in that way? 

What are some actionable steps men can take to be better allies in the workplace?

To me, there are 2 steps any man should take to become a better ally in the workplace: allow yourself to be educated/educate yourself on matters concerning women and hold other men accountable for their actions. Again, don’t be the bystander, make the effort to correct your colleague/friend. 

How has your work as co-chair of the RN Compass Network allowed you to make a difference?

My work as Co-Chair of the RN LGBTQ+ Network has allowed me to make a difference by providing a stage for people to speak their cause on. To me being an ally is being that stage, not the microphone; allow people to speak for themselves, they are fully capable of doing so. Be the support for those who want to be heard but don’t talk over them, for them or take their cause and make it your own. 

Remember: Be the stage, not the microphone.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see Danny Cairns in action at our upcoming event, “Identifying and Rectifying Toxic Leadership.” Join us as we delve into crucial discussions on leadership dynamics within the defence sector, exploring strategies to foster a healthier, more inclusive workplace. Danny, with his insightful perspectives and commitment to positive change, will be a key panellist in this vital conversation.

Event Details:

  • Title: Identifying and Rectifying Toxic Leadership
  • Date: Monday 11th of February
  • Location: Teams
  • Time: 12pm 1 1pm

For more information and to register your attendance, please visit Identifying and Rectifying Toxic Leadership. We look forward to welcoming you to what promises to be an enlightening and transformative session.

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