A recent press release by the Royal Air Force (RAF) confirmed that in an RAF recruitment drive conducted in September 2022, they discriminated against white men in an effort to boost diversity. The incident sparked an independent inquiry into the matter, leading to the resignation of the then-Group Captain Recruiting and Selection.
It is believed that the RAF had diversity goals that led to having impossible targets. This is understood as the motivator behind the decision to fast-track some candidates and implement positive discrimination towards them.
It should be noted that discrimination under protected characteristics is unlawful as stated by the Equality Act 2010, including gender and ethnic background. Effectively, the recruitment drive in question has been admitted to have involved unlawful discrimination.
Details on the Recruitment Drive
An investigation by Sky News under the Freedom of Information Act has found insights about the RAF recruitment drive. Leaked emails obtained by Sky News revealed that white men seeking positions as pilots in the RAF were referred to as “useless white male pilots.” These derogatory remarks raised questions about the recruitment practices and culture within the organisation.
From this, it was revealed that the RAF is compensating 31 white male applicants who were compelled to postpone their training due to the RAF’s diversity policies. Each applicant is being paid £5,000 as a form of redress for the delays they experienced. The RAF, led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, had previously set ambitious targets of recruiting 40% female candidates and 20% individuals from ethnic minorities.
Senior members of the RAF’s recruitment teams, including Air vice-marshal Maria Byford and former head of recruitment Elizabeth Nicholl, expressed their concerns over the recruitment process. Byford, who served as the chief of staff for personnel, claimed that she had to slow down the recruitment process as the desired targets were not being met. Nicholl, in her protest, resigned from her position and cited an “unlawful order” she had received to halt the selection of white male recruits for pilot training in favour of women and ethnic minority applicants. She found the imposed diversity targets unattainable.
Leaked Email Contents
Leaked emails dating back to 2020 and 2021, which were submitted as evidence in an internal inquiry into Nicholl’s resignation, contained remarks such as “if we don’t have enough BAME and female to board then we need to make the decision to pause boarding and seek more BAME and female from the RF [recruitment force].” The email also included the statement, “I don’t really need to see loads of useless white male pilots.” Reports suggest that selection boards comprising solely white men were cancelled, and efforts were made to expedite the recruitment of female and ethnic minority candidates without them undergoing the essential fitness test.
In March 2021, the RAF announced that it had achieved the government targets of increasing female recruits to 20% and ethnic minority recruits to 10% of the total force. Subsequently, the RAF committed to further elevate these ratios to 40% and 20%, respectively, by 2030.
When questioned about complaints regarding the recruitment process, the RAF disclosed that “fewer than five individuals submitted a service complaint that was upheld.” The RAF confirmed that it had identified 31 individuals who missed out on payments due to delays in their entry/course dates and that all of them have since received their due compensations.
The RAF emphasized its commitment to building a service that attracts talent from all segments of the UK workforce and pledged to continue its efforts within the provisions of the law. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have the ability to take lawful positive action to address the under-representation of certain groups within their organizations. However, it is crucial to note that this positive action should not result in active discrimination against other groups.