THE STRATEGIC DEFENCE REVIEW: POLICY FOR
35. The Armed Forces must try therefore to deepen
the pool of talent in which they fish for recruitsbut the
fishing still needs to be skilful and the bait chosen carefully
according to circumstances. If the Armed Forces' appeal is to
reach the widest range of the population, this clearly means they
must draw from ethnic minority groups from whom in the past recruitment
has regrettably been poor. Racial discrimination in the Armed
Forces has concerned the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE)
for many years and they say that
Historically this discrimination
operated both to exclude ethnic minority men and women from many
parts of the Army, Navy and RAF and to subject those who had joined
to physical and verbal racist abuse and harassment. Inevitably
the occurrence of racial harassment within the Services has affected
the ability of the Services to recruit and retain ethnic minority
Our colleagues on the Select Committee on the Armed
Forces Bill in 1996 commented on ethnic minorities in the Armed
Forces at a time when the CRE was formally investigating racial
discrimination in the Household Cavalry.
This was a nadir for race relations in the Armed Services, and
our colleagues expressed their disappointment that so little progress
had been made since the previous Armed Forces Bill in 1991. Having
examined what the MoD and the Armed Forces have done since then,
we believe much progress has been made: the situation is still
far from perfect but we should not lose sight of how far the Armed
Forces have come and how much has been achieved in tackling racial
discrimination in the last five years. The achievements of
the Armed Forces in tackling the issue of racial discrimination
are considerableeven if the actual results in terms of
recruits remain a little disappointing, the culture change has,
we believe, been profound.
36. Figures for recruitment from ethnic minorities
are shown below.
Recruitment from Ethnic Minorities
Source: Commission for Racial Equality, Ev pp 91-92
*First ethnic monitoring survey
Notes: Percentages shown are of total numbers of 'non-white'
personnel and include personnel recruited from Commonwealth countries.
Ethnic minorities make up 7-8 per cent of
the UK population.
The targets for 2000-01 and 2001-02 are 4 per cent
and 5 per cent respectively.
Despite the change of attitude we have noted above, since 1997,
when targets for ethnic minority recruiting were first set, the
Services as a whole have failed to meet them and at the current
rate of progress it will take 30 years to reach the MoD's target
of 5 per cent ethnic minority recruitment set for 2001-02. The
Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Personnel) assured us
We are not complacent. We
set ourselves very demanding targets and we are progressively
getting towards them ...
And the Second Sea Lord told us
We were set some quite stiff
targets to achieve and we are extremely disappointed not to be
achieving them, but this is very much a question of a glass being
half full rather than half empty. Three years ago the Navy recruited
six officers and 35 other ranks. Two years later it doubled those
figures: 12 officers and over 70 other ranks ... Those percentages
are 2.9% for officers and 1.7% for ratings, so they are below
the targets, but they are moving in the right direction.
37. The Services are seeking very actively to increase
their appeal to ethnic minorities. The Adjutant General described
the Army's outreach programme to ethnic minority communities.
After some initial confusion, the Commission for Racial Equality
agreed that this project was giving impressive results and was
worthwhile. It had involved 32 events around the country, starting
in April 1999, and was attended by a total of 191,000 people from
ethnic minority communities. The actual recruitment yield was
only 330, but this was slightly better than could be expected
from a similar exercise aimed at the general population. This
sort of initiative also has a wider value in raising the profile
of the Armed Forces specifically amongst ethnic minority communities.
38. Nevertheless, there are continuing differences
in the rates at which inquiries from members of ethnic minorities
are converted into applications and then into recruits, as compared
to the rest of the population. For the Army, three and a half
inquiries from the ethnic minorities translate into one enlistment,
compared with a slightly lower figure of one from three for white
people. In the Navy, for every eight enquiries from the ethnic
minorities, six turn into applications from which there is one
enlistment; for white people the figures are six, four and one.
Although the differences seem fairly slight, the CRE has encouraged
the Services to investigate the reasons. As a result, best practice
guidelines have been issued to careers offices. Conversion rates
have improved in the last few years, and we look forward to further
39. The need to ensure equal opportunity in the Armed
Forces for people from ethnic minorities is indisputable on moral
grounds. It is important that the Armed Forces be seen to be the
defender of the nation as a whole. From the viewpoint of the Services'
own self-interest, in ensuring they recruit sufficient and appropriate
people, it is vital that the potential offered by young people
from ethnic minority communities is fully exploited. The CRE acknowledge
'the considerable efforts and expenditure deployed to increase
levels of ethnic minority representation within the Armed Forces'
and the scale of the task facing the Services. But they remain
of the view that the targets are achievable. They recommend moving
towards a more coherent strategy, which would be achieved by the
three Services sharing best practice, having analysed their various
recruiting strategies on a systematic basis, so that the successful
ones can be pursued and the failures discarded.
This is one area in which we are sure that an over-arching,
tri-service strategy is relevant and useful. We recommend that
more systematic evaluation of all recruitment strategies is carried
out to identify those which are most successful, with particular
attention to those directed at ethnic minorities. In this
context, we were particularly disappointed that our MoD witnesses
did not lay much greater emphasis on the cadets as a rich recruiting
ground for members of ethnic minority communities, despite the
success of the cadets in attracting large numbers of youngsters
from ethnic minorities into uniforms.
40. The Armed Forces have made significant, and in
the context of traditionally conservative organisations rapid,
progress in ethnic minority recruitment, albeit from a very poor
starting point. This progress has resulted from the commitment
and hard work by many in the MoD and the Armed Forces, assisted
by the CRE. But, because the targets have not been met, what should
appear as a success story can be made to look like failure. The
Second Sea Lord expressed obviously heartfelt views about this
The people I feel the greatest
sympathy for are the young, black and Asian recruiters out there,
who absolutely work unbelievably long hours, going out into the
community, and after two years of quite an improvement in the
Navy we flattened off last year. That is an area which we are
looking at very hard.
Professor Dandeker expressed reservations about the
value of targets in this area
I think it is unwise when
one constructs targets for recruiting particular sections of the
population to have any in-built assumption that it is normal to
suppose a random probability of members of that society wishing
to join the armed services. There is little evidence for that
... The crucial thing is to ask the question if they do not want
to, why do they not want to? Is it because they are going to be
made to feel unwelcome and bullied and harassed? ... The second
thing is the danger of targeting recruitment at a particular minority
community, in this case a minority ethnic one, which can lead
to problems in the sense that some would respond and say, 'Hold
on, I am British and I would like to join the armed services.
I do not need a special targeted attack on my community. You are
making all sorts of assumptions about my status in British society.
I am British and want to be treated in that way.' So the targeting
does not always deliver necessarily what you think it will.
Targets were an essential element in getting the
Services from the low starting point in 1996 to their improved
position today. It is crucial that momentum is maintained in ethnic
minority recruiting and we believe the commitment exists to achieve
this. However, as is suggested by some witnesses, the relative
motivating and demotivating effects of targets need to be examined.
They have been a useful spur but they should not be allowed to
become a disincentive. Eventually, of course, the need for them
should wither away.
41. Less measurable than recruitment statistics,
but equally important, is the way ethnic minority personnel are
treated in the Services. We consider this later in the context
of assessing whether the working environment in the Armed Forces
is one which will encourage people to stay.
42. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) recognises
... the tremendous developments
that have occurred in recent years in opening up a wider range
of jobs to women in the Army, the RAF and service at sea in the
The table below shows the numbers and percentage
of women in the trained strengths of the Services.
Number and Percentage of Women in the Armed Forces
(Trained Strength) at 1 October 2000
||Number of Women
Source: Defence Analytical Services Agency, Trained
Requirements and Strengths of Service Personnel at 1 October 2000,
TSP 2 Revised, 6 December 2000
Of the total number of Armed Forces personnel (ie,
including the untrained strength) 8 per cent were women at 1 April
2000 (8.8 per cent officers and 7.8 per cent other ranks) compared
to 5.7 per cent (5.9 per cent officers and 5.6 per cent other
ranks) in April 1990.
Recruitment of women of the last five years has remained fairly
steady as shown in the table below.
Intake of Women to the Regular Forces
(Years to 1 April)
Other Ranks (%)
Other Ranks (%)
Other Ranks (%)
Other Ranks (%)
Source: Defence Analytical Services Agency, UK Regular Forces
Strengths and Changes at 1 October 2000, TSP 1,
2 November 2000
It is disappointing that the figures do not show
sustained growth. The Armed Forces received adverse publicity,
in the early 1990s, in legal cases brought against them by pregnant
women dismissed from the Services. The EOC believes that, although
the situation has now changed, it has left a perception that the
Services do not represent a good career for women and that women
are not welcome.
The EOC made the point that, if women are seen to be reaching
high-ranking positions in the Armed Forces, the recruitment picture
might again show improvement.
They drew a comparison with the police force where the percentage
of women is now about 35 per cent, having remained at 20-25 per
cent for a number of years. It is vital that the Services continue
their drive to publicise the career opportunities they offer and
it is in the Armed Forces' own interest to appeal to women, given
the current shortage of personnel.
43. The EOC accept that the Armed Forces sincerely
wish to see a larger percentage of women joining and staying.
but that one of the obstacles to this is the continued exclusion
of women from a number of posts.
Women are able to serve in 70 per cent of posts in the Army; 73
per cent of posts in the Naval Service; and 96 per cent of posts
in the RAF.
The continuing restrictions are reviewed from time to time, but
the MoD's view is that units whose primary purpose is to 'close
with and kill the enemy' should recruit only men.
Posts which are not open to women on these grounds are: the Royal
Marines General Service; cap-badged posts in the Infantry and
Royal Armoured Corps (including the Household Cavalry); and the
RAF Regiment. The Chief of the Defence Staff recently set out
his views as follows
Some have suggested that
the answer to our needs may lie in opening up more combat roles
to women. At present about 8 percent of our total trained strength
are women and they fulfil some very important roles ... We have
taken an incremental approach to widening the roles for women
in the Services and are currently conducting a study into their
suitability for close combat roles. I am not sure that the nation
is ready for such a step yet, but from my perspective we must
ensure that nothing, I repeat nothing, damages the combat effectiveness
of the British Armed Forces. The Chiefs of Staff have a duty to
recommend to the government how to produce the best operational
capability for the nation. We will have to see what conclusions
the study draws, but I stress the Chiefs of Staff are not in the
business of designing Armed Forces for the good times. We have
to advise what will work when conditions are tough, dangerous
and frightening. When the time comes, if the Chiefs of Staff advice
upsets those who seek equality as an end in itself then so be
It is not made clear, in enunciating this policy
on women in combat roles, whether this exclusion is on the grounds
of physiological ability or moral distaste for women having to
do such work. If it is the latter, it is time it was abandoned.
44. The Army is currently conducting a study into
the effects, if any, on combat effectiveness since the number
of posts open to women was increased to 70 per cent. The study
will also assess the impact on combat effectiveness of removing
the continuing exclusions.
The EOC had not yet seen details of the study but understood that
the trials were looking at the way mixed teams would work in an
infantry environment, rather than combat effectiveness itself,
as 'it is obviously impossible to replicate combat until you are
Despite this problem, the Commission was emphatic in its evidence
that, in deciding whether to expand the role of women in the Armed
Forces, 'operational effectiveness must be the primary factor'
and that there should be no question of lowering the standards
If you can pass the tests
that are necessary for the job to be done, then you should have
a go at doing it. What we are absolutely not sayingand
I want to make this very clear because sometimes it is not heardthat
women should be able to do it regardless.
We raised with the EOC some of the common arguments
used against women on the front-line, particularly the often-cited
one that men would instinctively try to protect their female colleagues
in combat. Their view was that proper training equips personnel
to deal with any crisis: personnel would respond in combat in
the way in which they had been trained to respond, and if this
involved working in a mixed team of men and women, they could
be trained in that way.
It was possible to look at experience in other countries, particularly
the United States, but the EOC stressed the importance of considering
these issues in the British military context because of the distinct
role the British Forces fulfil in international interventions.
45. In the Navy, women are excluded from service
in submarines and as mine clearance divers on medical grounds.
The latest review of these restrictions reported early in 1999.
It found that in submarines there is potential danger for pregnant
women from contaminants which build up during long periods of
submersion. These are not harmful to adults but may harm foetuses.
The MoD believes it should not compromise its duty of care to
women by allowing them to serve in submarines even if the women
themselves are prepared to take the risk. The risks from mine
clearance diving are also to unborn children.
The obvious danger for the MoD is that if unborn children were
harmed by conditions experienced by their mothers, some women
might choose to sue. The EOC believes that for these reasons 'the
Royal Navy may be unlawfully discriminating against all women
because of a possible perceived danger to a few'.
It is a difficult area, but not an insuperable one in practical
terms. Women should know if they are likely to be pregnant; there
are comparisons which can be made with NASA, who disregard pregnancy
as a potential problem because they make it clear to women that
they should not be pregnant at times when they know they are going
on space flights. The EOC also thought the Navy could do useful
comparative research into the number of women who are unwittingly
pregnant in surface ships.
46. There is a secondary issue of privacy and decency
in submarines. Baroness Symons, the MoD minister with a particular
responsibility for equal opportunities, believes this to be a
more important issue than the risk of pregnancy.
Living space is extremely limited and it would be very difficult
in the present classes of submarines to allocate separate sleeping
and washroom facilities for women. The EOC has discussed these
issues with the Royal Navy and the Navy believe it may be possible
to adapt the accommodation in some submarines meet these concerns.
But there would be a transitional problem in building up an appropriate
number of women submariners to avoid gapping (falling below the
manning requirement), as nuclear-powered submarines have to be
100 per cent manned at all times. Because submariners have to
use the same sleeping accommodation on different shifts, the complementing
challenge would be complex. Of course, issues of privacy and decency
are different for different individuals and culturesthe
Royal Swedish Navy appears to be able to allow women and men to
work together as submariners with less concern about these questions.
Immediate change may not be possible, and if it did demand larger
living quarters, could be costly. However, the Navy has to
decide what its policy on women submariners should be in 10 to
15 years' time and factor this in when designing or refitting
submarines for the future.
47. Professor Strachan's view on women in the Armed
Forces was that
... it is important to distinguish
between equal opportunities and equal rights ... This is exactly
where the physical issue comes in. You do not have to make a distinction
on the grounds of gender if somebody is not physically capable
of doing the job.
In the past all three Services applied different
test standards for men and women, known as 'gender fair' tests,
to reflect the difference between the two in physical strength,
particularly upper-body strength. The Armed Forces find physical
fitness is a recruitment issue for both men and women because
young people are in general less active now than previously.
What the EOC regard as appropriate are 'gender free' tests which
assess the actual requirements of a job and test potential recruits
on that basis. The Army have made great progress in analysing
every post on this basis and identifying specific fitness standards
accordingly. Its system of gender free physical fitness selection
tests for recruitment has operated since April 1998. The EOC believes
this system should be extended to all parts of the Services. The
Navy still have different physical fitness standards for women.
The EOC points out that this could in fact constitute discrimination
against men. Gender-neutral
physical fitness tests can meet the primary criteria of ensuring
operational effectiveness. We recommend that all three Services
follow the Army's example in adopting them to assess physical
fitness for any post. The Army's study of the impact on combat
effectiveness of women on the front-line may provide more objective
evidence on which to make policy decisions. But operational effectiveness
must remain the overriding consideration.
59 Ev p 89 Back
Report from the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Session
1995-96, HC 143, paras 25-29; see also Ev p 90 Back
White Paper 1999, Cm 4446, p 38 Back
QQ 217, 219-21, 263-4 and 312 Back
p 93; see also QQ 270, 312 Back
pp 92 and 97 Back
p 72 Back
p 34, para 12.1. The figures in the table relate to the trained
162-3 and Ev p 72 Back
pp 34-35, paras 12.4-12.8 Back
p 74; Back
speech, op cit Back
Deb, 14 November 2000, c 574w Back
p 77-8, paras 6.1-6.6; HC Deb, 24 February 1999, cc 300-301w Back
p 78, para 6.5 Back
84 Q185-6 Back
Part of my job: equal opportunities in the Armed Forces,
interview with Baroness Symons, in RUSI Journal, October 2000 Back
85, 115, 251, 715 Back
pp 75-6, para 4.2.1-4.2.3; Q 465 Back