international employment law firm alliance L&E Global
United Kingdom

UK: Inquiry finds Royal Air Force recruitment targets led to unlawful discrimination against white males


The RAF ordinarily used the “first past the post” system in recruitment so that positions were given to candidates who passed the various stages of selection such as aptitude, medical and fitness tests. However, this changed after diversity targets were set, to increase the number of female recruits to 20% and ethnic minority recruits to 10% by 2020, and for 40% of the force to be female and 20% from an ethnic minority background by 2030.

In 2020 and 2021, 161 candidates, who were either women or from ethnic minority backgrounds, were accelerated into training places ahead of other candidates.

The inquiry, conducted by the Ministry of Defence, found that the pressure to meet the recruitment targets had led to unlawful positive discrimination. The diversity campaign, which was intended to be positive action, was found to have discriminated against at least 31 men who were held back in training. These men will now receive compensation.

Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel

We are now five years on from the first year of gender pay gap reports being published, and with increased interest in voluntary ethnicity pay reporting and the prospect of disability workforce reporting, employers are feeling the pressure to show that their equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategies are working and their gender pay gaps and other diversity statistics have started to improve. The inquiry’s findings serve as a reminder of the risks of setting unrealistic diversity targets and recruiting and promoting to achieve those targets.

RAF Recruiting and Selection Non-Statutory Inquiry Report