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Female RAF recruitment chief quit over diversity targets

Female RAF recruitment chief who quit in protest over ‘woke’ diversity targets ‘refused unlawful order to prioritise women and ethnic minorities over white men’

  • Air Vice-Marshal Maria Byford resigned over the methods to fill diversity quotas
  • She said it was ‘unlawful’ and that she could not halt job offers to white men 
  • The Armed Forces minister disputed the ‘pause’ after backing diversity plans
  • Sajid Javid earlier this week labelled the recruitment issue ‘complete nonsense’ 

The female RAF recruitment chief who resigned in protest over the force’s ‘woke’ diversity targets believed it was ‘unlawful’ to ‘prioritise women and ethnic minorities over white men’, it has been claimed.

Air Vice-Marshal Maria Byford, chief of staff personnel and air secretary, is said to have told her boss in an email that she was not willing to allocate Royal Air Force Training slots based purely on gender or ethnicity.

She wrote: ‘I am not prepared to delegate or abdicate the responsibility of actioning that order to my staff.’

Defence sources said it raised issues of positive discrimination.

On Friday a government minister said positive discrimination within the RAF would be investigated with those responsible held to account.

And former health secretary Sajid Javid said it would be ‘complete nonsense’ if the RAF has paused recruitment of white males. 

Air Vice-Marshall Maria Byford, who was in charge of RAF recruitment prior to her resignation due to disagreements about how to fill diversity quotas

James Heappey, Armed Forces minister disputed a ‘pause’ on offering jobs to white men to hit ‘impossible’ diversity targets which reportedly started in late June, having backed plans to boost diversity quotas.

He said Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, who heads the RAF, had asked the team to ‘pause’ offering training slots to all while he and his leadership consider how they might take positive action to assist improving diversity levels on various training courses in the year to March 2023.

He stressed that no policy is implemented yet despite the RAF recruitment team receiving an order on August 2 from the chain of command, according to Sky News. 

Air Vice-Marshal Maria Byford’s August 4 email explained that under this order her team was ‘to course load any remaining women and EM [ethnic minorities] in those priority professions that are ready, even if the EA [enlisted aviator] candidates are not ‘first past the post”.

The RAF (pictured) is aiming for 40 per cent female recruits by 2030 and the target for ethnic minorities is a ratio of 20 per cent of the air force

The ‘first past the post’ system means the RAF’s slots are given to the applicants who pass the aptitude, medical and fitness tests first.

Byford specified that the halting of job offers to white men and to only employ minorities was ‘not actioned’. 

She said the order violated equality legislation and the RAF’s own legal guidance.

The Vice-Marshal, who has served in the force for more than 30 years, said the RAF should look at how to use ‘positive action’ legally so recruits who have passed the basic requirements to join the force can be selected on merit as well as their gender and ethnicity. 

Pictured James Heappey, Armed Forces minister (right) who backed diversity quotas and disputed the ‘pause’ on the recruitment of white men

She confirmed earlier in the week that women could be picked over men if they were underrepresented in that role and they had met the required standards. 

An RAF spokesperson said her concerns had now been addressed by the chain of command.

They said: ‘The RAF recruits people from the widest possible pool of talent and is becoming a more diverse organisation, but we will not do so at the expense of our high standards, operational effectiveness, or adherence to legal obligations.’

‘We frequently review our recruitment processes, seeking legal advice to ensure that we are mindful of our legal obligations.

‘Any allegations that we have failed to do so are investigated without delay. The concern raised in this instance was addressed by the chain of command at the time and we continue our work to ensure recruitment processes remain compliant with all policy and legal requirements.’

A spokesperson for the Conservative Party leadership hopeful, Rishi Sunak, said earlier in the week: ‘That the Ministry of Defence would allow Britain’s security to potentially be put at risk by a drive for so called ‘diversity’ is not only disgraceful, it is dangerous.’ 

Defence chiefs have championed the increase of diversity within the profession and the MOD announced it aimed to increase female recruits from 12 per cent to 30 per cent by 2030.  

The RAF is aiming to better that with a goal of 40 per cent female recruits and the target for ethnic minorities is a ratio of 20 per cent of the air force.

Defence sources have accused Air Chief Marshal Wigston of compromising UK security in pursuit of improving diversity and inclusion.

The minister said: ‘If that is a culture that exists, I’m sure that we will be encouraging the Chief of the Air Staff to get after it, to make very clear within the RAF what the policy is.’

James Heappey told Sky News: ‘I want the chief of the air staff and the other chiefs to get after our lack of diversity, but at definitely no expense to our ability as a war-fighting organisation to keep our nation safe.’

He said he also had confidence in Air Chief Marshal Wigston despite the criticism.

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