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Home » Royal Air Force Unlawfully Discriminated Against White Male Recruits In Bid To Boost Diversity

Royal Air Force Unlawfully Discriminated Against White Male Recruits In Bid To Boost Diversity

The Royal Air Force unlawfully discriminated against white men in a recruitment drive aimed at boosting diversity, an official inquiry has found.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton, the new head of the RAF, said he “apologised unreservedly” to all those affected, including the former head of recruitment who was forced to resign rather than implement an order she believed – correctly – to be unlawful.

Despite the damning findings, the chief of the air staff said that none of the RAF’s senior leadership, including his predecessor Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, on whose watch this happened, would face any kind of sanction.

Instead, he blamed the debacle on legal advice that incorrectly said a push in 2020 and 2021 to fast-track ethnic minority and female recruits into training slots was positive action – which is a legal way to improve diversity – when it was actually positive discrimination, which is unlawful.

“We accept that some men were discriminated against,” Air Chief Marshal Knighton said.

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Wallace: RAF diversity recruitment policy ‘wrong’ Thirty-one men have already been identified as having missed out on a potential £5,000 “golden handshake” to start cyber roles in the RAF.

As first revealed by Sky News, the RAF is compensating each of these individuals.

Air Chief Marshal Knighton acknowledged that there could be more cases and said that the RAF would compensate anyone found to have suffered discrimination.

Wallace concerned by ‘significant error’

Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, described what happened as a “significant error” and a “cause for regret” for the RAF.

But he insisted that entry standards were never lowered.

Image: Ben Wallace Yet he said the treatment of Group Captain Lizzy Nicholl, the then head of recruitment who raised the alarm about the unlawful activity and ended up losing her career, needed to be “looked at considerably”.

He said scrutiny was needed of “why she was ignored, why indeed she was put under that pressure. And I don’t want to see anyone put under pressure to do something like what we’ve seen in the RAF”.

The admission marks a stunning U-turn by the RAF on a scandal first exposed last August by Sky News when it was revealed that Group Captain Nicholl had resigned after refusing to carry out an order to discriminate against white men.

She was put into this position after her chain of command, under Air Vice Marshal Maria Byford, who reported to Air Chief Marshal Wigston, insisted that the order was to be carried out despite Group Captain Nicholl saying she had received new legal advice that it was unlawful.

Only last September, in evidence to parliament, Air Chief Marshal Wigston assured MPs that there was no unlawful discrimination against white men.

Image: Mike Wigston ‘Uncomfortable reading’

A 72-page report – the result of a non-statutory inquiry ordered by Air Chief Marshal Wigston in the wake of the furore – found that the then head of recruitment had been right.

It also criticised senior leaders for not relying on reliable forecasts when setting ambitious targets to increase the ratio of women and ethnic minority recruits.

Air Chief Marshal Knighton admitted that the report made “pretty uncomfortable reading” but said that the RAF would learn lessons and this would never happen again.

The report sought to find out what happened in the lead up to Group Captain Nicholl’s resignation.

It also looked into allegations by the officer that she was the victim of institutional bullying because she had been forced to chase impossible diversity targets.

The report cleared the RAF of the bullying allegations but concluded that Group Captain Nicholl had been right to call out the unlawful recruitment practices.

Read more:

RAF ‘artificially inflated’ numbers to hit diversity targets

Boss insists ‘no drop in standards’ despite recruitment row

Chief ‘unashamed’ of ‘pausing jobs for white men’

Diversity goal led to impossible targets

The whole affair is framed by an ambition set by Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston to significantly improve the RAF’s diversity – a defining goal of his tenure.

But this was translated down the chain of command into impossible recruitment targets.

The unlawful activity happened in that climate under a previous head of recruitment before Group Captain Nicholl took up her role in March 2021.

In the recruitment year to March 2020 and the year to March 2021, a total of 161 ethnic minority and female recruits were “pulled forward” onto initial training ahead of white men.

“We found that concerns were raised at the time by R&S [recruitment and selection] staff but that those who led the initiatives believed that they were ‘pushing the boundaries’ of positive action rather than acting unlawfully,” the report said.

Group Captain Nicholl, however, sought new legal advice in May and June 2022 that clearly said these activities were “contrary to the Equality Act 2010, which provided reasonable justification for the Former Group Captain R&S to state that acts of positive discrimination had taken place in RY20/21 [recruitment year 2020-21]”.

Despite this advice, she was still under pressure to prioritise women and ethnic minorities ahead of white men.

The report described how this advice was “either not seen or understood” by the most senior echelons of the RAF – two-star officers and above.

There was also resistance from the top to the challenge that Group Captain Nicholl made.

The report said: “We found that the chain of command’s reaction to the former Group Capt R&S was overly defensive and not properly considered whether she might have been justified in what she said regarding previous acts of positive discrimination or the legality of what she was asked to do; and that insufficient effort had been made to determine the facts.”