White men seeking to join the Royal Air Force were described as “useless white male pilots” in leaked emails that expose the pressure placed on recruitment officers to improve diversity.
A number of selection boards to place new recruits on courses – a crucial part of maintaining the fighting strength of the RAF – were also cancelled if they did not include women or ethnic minorities, according to the messages, which have been seen by Sky News.
It can also be revealed the air force is paying £5,000 each to 31 white men – a total of £155,000 – who it found had been unfairly disadvantaged by a recruitment policy that – under the leadership of Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, the head of the RAF – sought to boost female and ethnic minority ratios in the air force, according to a defence source.
The RAF confirmed that 31 individuals had received payments but did not confirm the amount.
The revelations appear to contrast with repeated assurances by Air Chief Marshal Wigston that well-intentioned efforts to improve diversity did not discriminate against white men, two informed defence sources said.
The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), who is due to retire from his post this week, has also repeatedly insisted that his service’s operational capabilities were never impacted.
The RAF insisted that there was no contradiction.
A spokesperson said: “Selection standards were not and have not been altered and there was no compromise of entry standards and no impact on the frontline or operational effectiveness.”
But a defence source with knowledge of the emails described them as a “smoking gun”.
Sky News first revealed last August that Group Captain Elizabeth Nicholl, the then head of RAF recruitment, had resigned in protest at what she, according to defence sources, deemed to be an “unlawful order” effectively to pause the selection of white male recruits onto training courses in favour of women and ethnic minorities to hit “impossible” diversity targets.
That order was never implemented because of her resignation, but Sky News also previously revealed that the RAF had taken steps to “artificially inflate” diversity numbers in recruitment prior to Group Captain Nicholl taking charge.
The leaked emails are dated back to that period in 2020 to early 2021 when recruitment and selection was led by her predecessor, Group Captain William Dole.
Sky News understands these emails and others have been submitted as evidence to an internal inquiry launched last year by the Ministry of Defence into the circumstances which led to the resignation of Group Captain Nicholl.
‘Predominantly white male heavy’
One exchange on 19 January 2021 by a squadron leader in the recruitment force to a sergeant, with another officer also included, exposed the pressure that was apparently being applied to filter out white male recruits and fast-track women and ethnic minorities.
Sky News has chosen not to identify the names of the middle management involved in sending the correspondence.
Under a subject line entitled: “BOARDING PROFILE”, the squadron leader wrote: “I would be grateful if you could provide me with a breakdown of the candidates awaiting boarding, by Br [branch – the type of profession, such as pilot, engineer or chef] and BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic]/Female.”
He continued: “I noted that the boards have recently been predominantly white male heavy, 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].
“I don’t really need to see loads of useless white male pilots, lets [sic] get a [sic] focussed as possible, I am more than happy to reduce boarding if needed to have a balanced BAME/female/Male board.”
Another email sent the following day by the same squadron leader to a more senior member of the recruitment team, entitled “BOARDING PROFILE UPDATE”, suggested a struggle to hit diversity targets.
It also discussed how efforts were being made to load more ethnic minority and female candidates onto selection boards – which is the process through which new recruits are chosen for different branches at the training college for enlisted recruits, RAF Halton, or at RAF Cranwell, where officers are trained.
These efforts included the cancellation of boards that only comprised white men.
“You will note however that the pot for BAME and female is drained,” the squadron leader wrote.
“From 336 Cs [candidates] we have c10% female, 5% BAME which we will burn through quickly using the boarding profile proposed.
“As you know we select approx. 45-50% of BAME and female that we board therefore we expect to select c15 female and 7 BAME from the current cohort.
“The demand signal needs to go back to RF [the recruitment force] to focus now on sending all the BAME and female they have.
“We have cancelled 2 x boards next week due to them having no female/BAME or priority Br [priority branch] on them”.
An RAF spokesperson said: “The Royal Air Force will not shy away from the challenges we face building a Service that attracts and recruits talent from every part of the UK workforce.
“We will continue doing everything we can to increase our recruiting intake from under-represented groups within the provisions of the law.”