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Lieutenant-Colonel (Retd) Diane Allen had 30 years’ experience in the British Army. She was one of the first women at Sandhurst - Sandhurst was so unprepared, there were no boots small enough for women and no beds for them. She served in Northern Ireland and Germany in the regular army, then 25 years in the reserves, alongside a career in the private and public sector. She moved through the ranks into more senior military leadership, creating new intelligence units. But with each success she achieved, resistance from those in charge increased. 

In November 2018, Diane was awarded the OBE, for services to military intelligence. By November 2019, she started a messy divorce with the army. But she didn’t leave voluntarily – she was pushed out.

A soldier with an appalling record made a malicious complaint against her and despite being vindicated, she was side-lined without explanation. Was this just toxic leadership, looking to distance itself from the risk of that soldier turning his anger against them, or something more sinister? An underlying misogyny that used this incident as opportunity to reinforce a bullet proof glass ceiling for women in defence.

Today, she works as a defence consultant,  ironically paid four times what she earned in the military (although she would still rather have remained in the Army).

"Honesty of motives is important to me. When I first drafted the book, it was written in anger. I had been wronged, lost a career and it hurt. By the time it was complete, writing had become an act of self-nurture – a catalyst for growth. 

The decision to publish was different. I had connected to others who had experienced the heavy hand of the MoD. We used the book as a call to arms, to reach others who had suffered. It worked. Though it was published during Covid, over 150 messages arrived within 48 hours. 300 within a month. Within 2 years, it was 4000+.

I had triggered a #MilitaryMeToo moment. The pain leapt from the messages. From a simple ‘it happened to me too’, to horrific details  – of rape, persistent harassment, demeaning initiations. Mostly from women but also from men. It was clear. The UK still allowed  sexual predators to stalk military workplaces. Abuse was an open, dark military secret. Behind barrack walls, predators were flourishing - and promoting. I was not alone.

Two organisations reached out and offered me support.[1] Some victims wanted this professional support; many simply wanted their assault to be acknowledged and to hear that what happened was Not OK. It helped me recognise a latent issue in myself – that the physical event was not the main cause of the lasting trauma – it was the cognitive trauma. Like them, the open wound was of being wronged, but having no redress. Like them, the very system and leaders tasked with upholding the values stood accused of ignoring, even coercing victims to stay silent. This betrayal was the lasting sore.   

I felt energy returning as I re-connected to purpose. This poor culture wasn’t delivering a place to thrive. Military leaders were too scared to challenge. And minorities, mavericks and victims were being ostracised and driven out. In the book, I describe the methods of abuse, but I also offered some solutions. Defence leadership has not taken that route. In 2024, we have the smallest and most unhappy defence force in two generations. It is not an accident. It is poor leadership.

Since publishing, I have campaigned with Parliament, through the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. In 2020, Sarah Atherton MP launched an investigation into the conditions for serving women. Since then, a reluctant MoD has started to make changes – albeit resisting where it can. The campaign continues. 

But this article is not about the campaign – it is about what I learned. This painful experience was the catalyst for deep personal growth. I have tried to capture this journey in the following 10 lessons.  Some I knew before, but had forgotten. Others came as revelations:

1.  If you are not being valued, go somewhere you will be. It took a while to accept the career I loved was over. And also to detach. The attacks on me were not personal, they were cultural. Once I realised, I resigned. And the weight lifted. I moved on to work in nicer environments. When I valued myself, I moved on. 

If you are feeling emotionally drained at work or at home, it is worth asking yourself, do you feel valued? And if not, what needs to change.

2.  Your purpose is already defined, you just need to connect to it.  When I left the army, I thought I lost my purpose. With reflection, I realised it was more accurate to say I had forgotten how to connect. Once I took my mind out of the military frame and sat in nature, my purpose sang out to me. It was already “in there.”  I wasn’t trying to figure it out, just re-connecting. The army had been one way of living my purpose but it is a big planet and a short life. In the quiet of reflection, I could see multiple routes to fulfil my purpose.

If you are unclear on your purpose, how do you find the quiet space to re-connect? 

3.  Finding and living true to your purpose isn’t easy – not everyone shares the same values. I saw a lot of conflict in my military years. What I learned is that both sides think they are right. My ‘ego’ has a set of beliefs and likes to defend them. So does yours. It’s a human problem. Ego wars are how we end up in global conflict. 

But, there’s a problem with peace too. Having all the comfortable basics of life without war, without famine means our minds have time to see ever smaller micro-aggressions. In peace, our hierarchy of needs[2] is set very high. We want everyone to see it our way. We defend an  individual world view, based on our identities. 

Driving in cars, social media and home working are exacerbating these individual identities. We don’t have to listen or communicate face to face. If your boundaries are ‘my unique identity’, then you are saying no-one is the same. It becomes possible to be in conflict with everyone.

Ask yourself, how many conflicts are you in ? Daily road-rage? Shouting on social media? Rows at work? For me, I learned that true peace began through tolerating differences related to my individual identity. It allowed me to focus only on differences related to my purpose. Shifting the focus, to seek what I have in common with those who can influence my  purpose was a game-changer. For me, this meant learning that I could work with those military leaders who had wronged me individually, if it meant we could make progress on stopping sexual assaults in the military.   

4. Following other people’s purpose doesn’t work and kills passion. When I published the book, the MoD rang me and ‘offered me a small job if I didn’t publish’. I declined. Once I knew that senior military leaders tolerated bigotry, bullying, and sexual assaults – I was always going to leave. To live to a purpose I didn’t believe in would be like sailing without wanting to go to the end destination. There was no passion in that path.

If you are struggling to live with passion, ask if you are following someone else’s purpose or your own?

5. Narrowing our world view lowers resilience. As I was sucked into delivering big military projects, my wider activities diminished. I became attached to my military role as my identity. It’s a common problem – I see it in parents who ‘live only for children’ or who identify too fully with work. The problem comes when that identity is gone e.g. children leave home. The army rejected me, and I experienced painful loss. As I re-kindled other areas of life, the sense of well-being returned. What balance looks like is very individual. For me it was a mixture of hobbies, family events and fun time. Change and loss are inevitable on life’s path. Grief is buffered best by breadth of interests.

It is worth asking yourself regularly, how resilient are you to a sudden change in role?  How wide are your interests? Do they include self-nurture?

6.  Righteous anger should be approached with caution. There is little doubt I was wronged by the military and I had a right to feel angry. Anger is a strong emotion and I discovered how much it affected my rational thinking. To undo this sense of anger and desire for ‘things to be put right’ I had to learn about the human mind-body stimulus system. Through huge work, I was able to break that stimulus-immediate emotional response. I could pause, breathe and decide if the reaction I was planning was of benefit to my purpose. If it wasn’t, it was unproductive. Yes, I wanted change in the military system, but research showed that peaceful, planned, mass protests are more successful than violent, knee-jerk actions. 

If you are feeling ‘righteous anger’, as I was, ask yourself, is your response likely to improve the situation? Just this question may give you the pause you need to respond more effectively.

7.  To experience pain is to grow. Avoiding that pain stops growth. From the lows of having my rights read to me in a police station to the highs of meeting the Queen and being awarded an OBE, the military was a roller coaster. For months after I resigned, I contemplated withdrawal from work. Retire. Hide. Avoid pain. It was seductive to think I could avoid suffering. But I realised I could not experience life fully, by avoiding suffering. I had to understand the cognitive pain I had experienced. And learn to detach instead.  Having methods to manage those emotions was key – meditation, exercise, reflection, time in nature. These were my chosen paths. Sadly, the military taught me to repress my fears. It was a revelation to learn the damage that was causing. 

If you are experiencing emotional trauma, what are you doing to process it?  Are you repressing, over-venting and repeating or releasing it?

8. How an organisation treats its minorities tells you much about its culture. In the military, the dominant group are white men. In an infantry unit, it is ‘working class’ lads. These are stereotypes but they matter, because when the dominant group get together, their ‘groupthink’ seems normal. It sets culture. Only good leadership (and legal mandates) can adjust that culture. It’s the same in any tribe or group. Humans alone are capable of adjusting that norm – to bring in social engineering and evolve beyond tribal suspicions and habits. In wider UK culture, equity is improving. Less so in the military. 

What I learned is that the rate of evolution of any organisation can most easily be assessed by how it treats minority employees. Take a look at your own ‘tribes’ – how are you doing?

9.  Acceptance of change is key.  In the book, I said that the army would always be my true family.  I still feel  connection to other veterans, but the organisation – it let me go and I have let it go. It doesn’t mean I won’t continue to campaign, but I can do it without familial attachment. Trying to force a relationship was like paddling upstream – constantly fighting the flow and eventually, I would have to rest and end up downriver anyway. Time to put the military behind me, with good grace. Once I did, I was able to meet with military leaders without feeling that old betrayal.  

What’s triggering you? Be honest – is it the person in front of you or the ghost behind you? Recognising and making friends with these ‘ghosts’ is the start of letting go.

10. Live authentically. I see people still serving in the military who have ‘given up’ and are working just to get a pension. For me, this is a price too high to pay. To be fulfilled in life, I know we must live authentically - to our values and to our purpose. The military taught me to hide ‘me’ – my femininity, my passions. Leaving has been a wonderful and painful experiential journey, to a more authentic self. And that’s what life is all about.

What about you? Are you living authentically?

I hope these 10 lessons might help you on your own journey. The MoD has taught me so much. Perhaps most, that it was time to be more honest with my motives. I thought I was living honestly, but on reflection, I found areas where I needed to grow. And in doing so, I re-found my purpose." 

Diane Allen

Forewarned: A Woman at War ... with the Military System: Amazon.co.uk: Allen, Diane: 9781912964376: Books

Website: Home | Forewarned_aWaW



[1] Salute Her. Salute Her and the Centre for Military Justice. Home - Centre for Military Justice

[2] Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (simplypsychology.org) – the scaffolding are the primitive needs for survival, shelter, food, warmth. As we get more comfortable, we think of ‘higher’ needs, perhaps the right to not be offended, to study.

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