The Royal Air Force has for the first time admitted “mistakes were made” with its recruitment practices following a slew of allegations that the service prioritised ethnic minority and female candidates over white men to hit “impossible” diversity targets.
In the latest revelation, a leaked email exposed concern about how an IT recruitment system that ranks candidates on merit would be “problematic” for the RAF and have “huge implications” on how the air force hits its ethnic minority and female targets.
The internal message, dated 9 April 2021, also claimed that the top recruitment priority for Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, the head of the RAF, was ethnic minorities and women.
Written by an officer in the recruitment branch, the email discussed how the Royal Navy was developing a “scoring matrix” as part of a new IT system to rank recruits according to ability.
It said the RAF could “certainly use it on occasion”.
But the flight lieutenant wrote: “I still hold the view that moving to a merit-based sift using scores achieved from assessments for candidates would be problematic for the RAF with huge implications on how we do things to achieve our targets.”
Responding to questions about the leaked email and following weeks of wider allegations about concerns over the certain RAF recruitment actions and their legality, an RAF spokesperson issued a new statement on Monday evening.
“The RAF is constantly reviewing its recruiting practices, including the introduction earlier this year of the new Recruiting IT System, to improve the diversity of its workforce,” the spokesperson said.
“While overall standards did not drop, in hindsight we accept that despite the best of intentions, some mistakes were made.
“The RAF is now confident that our approach is correct however we are investigating some processes and decisions taken in the past. It would be inappropriate to comment further while this is ongoing.”
The spokesperson was unable to say at this time what the specific mistakes had been, noting that an inquiry was launched by the Ministry of Defence earlier this month following the resignation of the head of RAF recruitment in August.
The group captain resigned – as revealed by Sky News – because she had refused to implement what she believed to be an “unlawful” order to prioritise the selection of ethnic minorities and women over white men for training courses.
The latest leaked email was first revealed by former RAF fast jet pilot Tim Davies on his YouTube channel.
“Just get this straight,” Mr Davies said in the video posted on Sunday.
“If they select based on merit that’s going to be a problem for the Royal Air Force because they have targets they need to achieve.
“More officers in the service, honestly think about challenging this! I don’t know why I’m doing this work for you guys. I’m not even in the service right now. It’s embarrassing.”
Asked about the authenticity of the email, Mr Davies told Sky News that he believed it to be authentic.
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Howard Wheeldon, a well-regarded defence analyst, called the revelations “utterly shocking”.
“Make no mistake, this is not an issue that can easily be swept under the carpet because it impacts not only on those seeking to join the RAF but on all those who are within the service today and on where it could ultimately impact on their personal progress and potential promotion in the future,” he wrote in a blog post on Monday.
“We can I am sure all agree that policies of diversity and inclusion are important and that they should, where practical and sensible, play a part in promoting a more diverse range of people into the military. But in the military, this must never be done at the expense and importance of merit being seen as the primary objective for excellence and advancement.”
Air Chief Marshal Wigston has previously defended his service’s recruitment practices.
“We continue to recruit people based on merit,” the chief of the air staff said in early September. “We will always pursue a more diverse RAF in ways that are fair, and there is rightly a healthy debate inside the Royal Air Force about the best way to tackle this.”
An RAF source said recruitment, in general, is always a top priority for the service, not just for ethnic minorities and women.