Jonathan Beale, BBC, June 30, 2023
Initiatives to increase the numbers of women and people from ethnic minorities in the RAF led to unlawful positive discrimination, an inquiry has found.
The head of the RAF has admitted some men were discriminated against.
The internal inquiry was sparked by the resignation of a female RAF Group Captain who told her superiors the policy penalised white men.
The inquiry found she had faced significant and unreasonable pressure to meet diversity targets.
These targets were set by the last Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Mike Wigston, to increase the proportion of women and people from ethnic minorities in the RAF.
But the unnamed senior female RAF recruitment officer told her superiors that fast tracking women and ethnic minorities was contrary to the equality act and discriminated against white men.
The inquiry, conducted by the Ministry of Defence, found the pressure to meet those targets led to unlawful, positive discrimination.
However the RAF had argued its policies amounted to positive action, not discrimination, and were not unlawful.
The new head of the RAF, Sir Richard Knighton, has now admitted that some men were discriminated against, and apologised.
They include a group of 31 who were held back in training, who have now been compensated.
The RAF has also admitted its target for 40% of the force to be female and 20% from an ethnic minority background by 2030 is unrealistic.
However no individual has been named or blamed for trying to implement the policy.
The female Gp Capt who first blew the whistle and resigned is still expected to take the RAF to an employment tribunal.
An MoD statement said the pressure the former Gp Capt was subjected to was “significant, and at times unreasonable; but that did not amount to institutional or individual bullying”.
It said that prior to her appointment, 161 ethnic minority and female candidates had been pulled forward onto Phase 1 training ahead of other candidates.
“We found that concerns were raised at the time, but that those who led the initiatives believed they were ‘pushing the boundaries’ of positive action rather than acting unlawfully,” it added.
The MoD added that the former Gp Capt’s resignation was “potentially avoidable” and her resignation letter included “fair criticisms which were later proved to be justified that her decision to resign was both understandable and reasonable”.
The 72-page report made 12 recommendations which it said are being implemented, including improving the whistleblowing policy and guidance on what constitutes unlawful positive discrimination and lawful positive action.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the treatment of people had been “wrong.”
Speaking at a press briefing at Canada House in London he said: “While the whole thing has been, I think, a significant error and indeed a cause for regret for the RAF, they didn’t lower the standard.
“They discriminated against those people that were applying [with people] who were above the standard, so our military level wasn’t put at risk.
“However, the treatment of the people applying – it was wrong, unsatisfactory.”