Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Equality and Human Rights Commission


  1.1  This written submission sets out the evidence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (the Commission) in relation to recruitment and retention of personnel in the Armed Forces.

  1.2  The Commission was established on 1st October 2007 under the Equality Act 2006. It champions equality and human rights for all, works to eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality, protect human rights and build good relations, and to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to participate in society.

  1.3  The new Commission brings together the work of the three previous equality commissions, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). The Commission's remit now covers race, disability, gender, gender reassignment, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief and the application of human rights. Working across Britain, the Commission has offices in Manchester, London, Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh.


  2.1  The Commission welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the Committee on the issue of recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces. The Commission does note and echo the Committee's concern that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) failed to achieve most of its diversity targets, particularly the recruitment and retention of people from ethnic minority communities. With that in mind the Commission does have concerns that limiting the focus of this Inquiry to the Armed Forces may be to take too narrow an approach. The Commission believes that there needs to be a holistic strategy which ensures fair recruitment across the board and an environment which welcomes all. For example tackling issues of retention for all strands should enable the MoD to create the diverse culture which is needed to meet its diversity targets.

  2.2  The armed forces and the MoD are all subject to the statutory duties to eliminate discrimination and to promote equality on the grounds of race, gender and disability.[13] The Commission would expect measures to improve the recruitment and retention of ethnic minority servicemen and women to figure prominently in the current and future equality priorities of the MoD and the individual armed forces, under the race and gender duties. The statutory equality duties require proportionate action to promote equality, and the armed forces and the MoD will have to address these significant issues if they are to meet their statutory legal obligations

  2.3  The Commission's broad remit provides an opportunity to approach issues in a more co-ordinated way than was possible for the previous single issue equality commissions. However the evidence set out below is divided into separate sections relating to race (Section 3); gender (section 4); disability (section 5); sexual orientation, religion or belief and age (section 6).

  2.4  There are two reasons for dividing the Commission's evidence in this way:

    —    in practice, the work currently done by the Commission in relation to the Armed Forces derives from and continues the work of the three predecessor commissions (and in particular that of the CRE and EOC);

    —    though some issues, for example harassment, are common to all, others may have a greater or different impact on service personnel or potential service personnel who are, for example, of a particular ethnicity or gender.


  3.1  The terms of reference of the Committee's Inquiry refer specifically to the need to identify the factors hampering recruitment of ethnic minority personnel. This section of the Commission's submission to the Inquiry is divided into two parts. The first part of this section (3.2 to 3.15) briefly summarises the CRE's work with the Armed Forces and MoD since 2001, when the Committee last heard evidence on this subject. The second part of this section (3.16 onwards) sets out the Commission's views on the issues affecting the recruitment and retention of ethnic minority personnel in the Armed Forces, drawing on the experience and knowledge gained by the CRE in its work with the Armed Forces and the MoD.

The CRE's work with the Armed Forces since 2001

  3.2  In 1998, the CRE entered into a five year partnership agreement with the MoD and Armed Forces. This was as a result of a Formal Investigation into the Household Cavalry, which found evidence of direct and indirect racial discrimination in recruitment and selection of officers and soldiers and postings of other corps and regiments; racial harassment; and instructions or inducements to discriminate.

  3.3  The terms of the partnership agreement were that the MoD would:

    —    improve recruitment, career progression and retention levels for ethnic minorities;

    —    aim to bring about cultural change through eliminating discrimination and harassment; and

    —    ensure leadership and corporate accountability to meet the terms of the agreement.

  3.4  The Armed Forces reported annually to the Commission on performance. This was supported by regular detailed reports to and discussions with the CRE.

  3.5  During the life of the first agreement, the CRE had concerns about the persistent failure of the tri-services to increase representation of ethnic minority nationals. The CRE was also concerned about the disproportionate rates of ethnic minority personnel leaving the services through premature voluntary release and dismissal; and their career progression. The services' explanations for these failings were:

    —    difficulties with the IT system, which was unable to produce figures on selection;

    —    disproportionate drop-out rates for ethnic minority applicants, who tended not to turn up for testing (31% ethnic minority applicants compared to 20% white applicants);

    —    disproportionate failure rates in recruitment tests for ethnic minority applicants; and

    —    disproportionate premature voluntary release (PVR) rates of ethnic minority ethnic personnel—which showed retention was an issue.

  3.6  The CRE considered that the services needed to analyse the reasons for the disproportionality in drop out rates, test failures and PVR rates to enable them to identify obstacles to ethnic minority applicants in recruitment, retention and career progression.

  3.7  In 2003, following the expiration of the first partnership agreement, the CRE and MoD entered into a second agreement for a three year period. The new agreement had a specific purpose "to achieve further progress with measurable outcomes in recruitment, retention, career progression, cultural change, complaints procedures and leadership and accountability". The agreement set out the outcomes which the CRE expected from the services (see appendix 1).[14]

  3.8  As part of the arrangement, the MoD provided documentary information annually to the CRE on progress against the expected outcomes. The CRE and the MoD met three times a year to discuss progress and actions for achieving outcomes.

  3.9  In the three years of the agreement, the CRE, while acknowledging the steady progress made and commitment of the services, continued to be concerned about recruitment and retention of ethnic minorities. The Army appeared to have made progress in recruiting at lower levels but this was not repeated at officer level. The RAF and RN however, consistently had difficulty achieving the agreed outcomes for recruitment. For example, the target goal agreed by the CRE and the MoD was for each service to increase representation by 0.5% year on year. The recruitment goals for the RAF during the life of the agreement (2003—2006) were 2.6%, 3.1% and 3.6%. They achieved 1.8%, 1.7%, and 1.5%. The goals for the RN were 2.5%, 3% and 3.5%. They achieved 2.1%, 2.3% and 2.0%.

  3.10  The CRE was particularly concerned about the achievements of the RAF and RN on recruitment. It was aware of a number of initiatives which both services were engaged in that were producing results but at a very slow pace. However, the problem was exacerbated when all forces were required to reduce their trained strength: the RAF had the highest reduction rate—8,000 until 2008, which it sought to achieve by restricting its intake.

  3.11  The culture of an organisation is significant to how individuals see opportunities within that organisation. In the case of the Armed Forces, there was a perceived—real or actual—culture of racial discrimination and harassment in many areas such as career progression and day to day working practices. Continuous General Attitude surveys for all services, however, showed that perceptions of harassment and discrimination were greater than the reality. Lack of corporate commitment to equality also seemed to allow racial discrimination and harassment to pervade. Leadership and Corporate accountability was a very important term of the agreement for the CRE. It is notable, that with clear corporate commitment to equality that the services seemed to make relatively significant progress in all areas covered by the agreement.

  3.12  Monitoring equality impact and outcomes is also highly important for identifying trends and patterns of inequality. Throughout the working relationship the services consistently had difficulty monitoring and capturing data on equality. On numerous occasions the services could not produce the data necessary to determine how successful they were at achieving the expected outcomes in the agreement.

  3.13  The Commission notes that there did not seem to be any discernible improvements by the Armed Forces in recruiting ethnic minorities during the first and second cycle of the relationship.

  3.14  The working relationship between the MoD and the CRE in relation to the second agreement came to an end in 2006. Both parties were in negotiations for a new arrangement but due to the closure of the CRE this was never finalised.

  3.15  However, throughout 2007, the CRE's enforcement team were also making enquires with the MoD in an attempt to establish the extent to which the MoD as a whole, including the Armed Forces, was meeting the specific race equality duty relating to employee monitoring[15] (known as "the employment duty"). The employment duty forms part of the MoD's obligations under the race equality duty and requires it to carry out monitoring of employees and job applicants by racial group. This work followed the findings of the CRE's Enforcement and Monitoring Project, which suggested that the MoD (as well as several other central Government departments) was not fully meeting the requirements of the employment duty. The Commission is continuing these discussions and some of the issues arising are set out in the following paragraphs.

Factors affecting recruitment and retention of ethnic minority personnel in the Armed Forces

  3.16  The Commission considers, drawing on the work of the CRE, that some of the following factors might hamper recruitment to the services:

    —    Perception of discrimination and harassment within the services—continuous attitude surveys carried out by the services always showed that the perception of discrimination and harassment was far higher than the reality. Ethnic minority personnel often had a greater perception of discrimination and harassment compared to white personnel.

    —    Lack of robust monitoring data to identify specific problem areas eg what might be the obstacles for different services in recruiting? The MoD often failed to provide data which would be useful for analysing discriminatory impact. (see paragraph 3.18 below)

    —    Many of the positive action initiatives engaged in by the services seem to be slow burn and would not be expected to lead to sustainable change in the short to medium term. For example, all services undertake outreach programmes working with gatekeepers and local communities to raise awareness of the services. However, the Commission considers that such programmes would take time to build confidence in the local community that the services could be a career of choice.

    —    Tendency for the services to see themselves as monolithic thus relying on the same methods to deal with under-representation but not necessarily recognising their differences in terms of for example the types of work undertaken by each service and entry requirements.

External factors affecting recruitment and retention

  3.17  The Commission is also aware that there are a number of external factors which could impact on the Armed Forces ability to recruit. These include for example:

    —    Foreign policy;

    —    Government cuts to all services especially the RAF;

    —    Public Service Agreement targets on equality means that many public services are seeking to attract ethnic minorities to work for them, providing increasing competition for the Armed Forces efforts to recruit.[16]

  3.18  Some of the factors mentioned above are also relevant to matters of retention eg perception, inadequate monitoring and data collection and positive action programmes which are slow burn. It should be noted that according to the information made available to the CRE that retention rates for ethnic minorities were comparable to white personnel. However, the caveat to this is that the inadequate monitoring and data collection by the services meant it was not possible to determine whether the rates were truly comparable. The CRE consistently asked that data systems should be given priority.

  3.19  The Commission believes that a more rigorous and sophisticated approach to the collection and analysis of data about employee ethnicity could lead to better informed decisions about the steps needed to improve recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces. It would also ensure that the MoD complies with the requirements of the employment duty. The employee monitoring data provided by the MoD for 2005-06[17] (which appeared to include the Armed Forces) was deficient in a number of areas, for example.

  3.19.1  The MoD did not consistently collect data by racial group. For some areas 14 categories were used but for other areas only three categories ("ethnic minority", "white" and "unknown") were used.

  3.19.2  Overall, 15% of staff were recorded as "unknown", a proportion that the CRE regarded as significant and making it difficult to conduct meaningful analysis of the rest of the data. Of further concern was the high level of unknowns in particular areas, for example the proportion of leavers whose ethnic group was unknown was 34%. Such gaps in data can make analysis very difficult or render it meaningless.

  3.19.3  Applications for employment and promotion are monitored. However, there is no measure of the numbers who were successful in their application for promotion, by ethnic group.

  3.19.4  Data on staff that cease employment is not broken down by reason for leaving.

  3.20  The MoD has indicated to the Commission that it has put in place new monitoring arrangements and that the report for 2006-07 will be an improvement on previous reports. This is a welcome development that we hope will include improvements in monitoring for the Armed Forces.


  4.1  The terms of reference of the Committee's Inquiry do not refer specifically to the need to identify the factors hampering recruitment and/or retention of women in the Armed Forces. However the EOC was concerned about these matters, particularly about retention rates for female service personnel. This section of the Commission's evidence to the Inquiry is divided into two parts. The first part of this section (4.2 to 4.4) briefly summarises the EOC's work with the Armed Forces and MoD since 2001, when the Committee last heard evidence about this. The second part of this section sets out the Commission's views on the issues affecting the recruitment and retention of women in the Armed Forces, drawing on the experience and knowledge gained by the EOC in its work with the Armed Forces.

The EOC's work with the Armed Forces since 2001

  4.2  Between 2001 and the end of 2002 the EOC held tri-service meetings with the Armed Forces and MoD at intervals of more or less six months. Those meetings discussed issues of concern to the EOC relating to retention and promotion of women in the Armed Forces, focussing in particular on the issues of combat effectiveness; flexible working; harassment and poor complaint handling. More informal contact at staff level continued after 2002, usually relating to specific issues such as the impact of sex discrimination law on fitness tests.

  4.3  However, increasing concern about the number of servicewomen contacting the EOC for advice and/or assistance about sexual harassment resulted in the EOC in June 2005 launching and immediately suspending a Formal Investigation into Sexual Harassment of Servicewomen in the Armed Forces. The suspension was on terms set out in a three-year agreement between the EOC and the MoD (the FI Agreement).[18] The agreement committed the Armed Forces and MoD to a three phase process, the third phase being the implementation of an action plan derived from diagnostic and planning work in phases one and two.

  4.4  The FI Agreement is due to end in June 2008 and the Commission will shortly be assessing the Armed Forces' compliance with the terms of that agreement and deciding what next steps are appropriate. Since the Formal Investigation is ongoing, though suspended, legal restrictions apply to the information received in relation to the Formal Investigation which can be disclosed to third parties. The information contained in this written evidence in relation to the outcomes of the FI Agreement is therefore confined to information which is already in the public domain.

Factors affecting recruitment and retention of women in the Armed Forces

  4.5  As will be apparent from the EOC's decision to launch a formal investigation into sexual harassment of service women in the Armed Forces the impact of harassment on women in the Armed Forces was viewed by the EOC as very significant. The Commission believes that the prevalence of sexual harassment does have a direct impact on the retention of women in the Armed Forces and indirectly on their recruitment. The most obvious and direct impact is where a service woman leaves the service as a result of suffering harassment. The indirect impact is on the perception of the Armed Forces by female potential recruits.

  4.6  Under the terms of the FI Agreement there have now been two surveys of service women's experiences of and attitude towards sexual harassment (reporting in 2005 and 2007 respectively) and a survey of service men's attitudes and experiences of sexual harassment (reporting in 2007). All the survey reports are available from the MoD website.[19]

  4.7  Both servicewomen's surveys suggest that a significant proportion of servicewomen have experienced some form of sexual harassment, with the 2007 survey reporting that 11% of servicewomen surveyed had experienced a particularly upsetting incident of sexual harassment in the preceding 12 months.[20]

  4.8  While the Commission cannot yet comment on the outcome of the FI Agreement it does acknowledge the efforts made by the Armed Forces to implement the action plan set out at Phase 3 of the FI Agreement.[21] The Commission understands that the Armed Forces acknowledge that the steps taken to date will not in themselves "solve" the problem of sexual harassment in the Armed Forces, but are intended to put in place the conditions for success in addressing the issue. That in term is a step towards the MoD's vision of an "environment free from bullying and harassment, where being a member of the Armed Forces brings with it the reality of being treated fairly and with dignity and respect".

The role of women in the Armed Forces and combat effectiveness

  4.9  The Commission acknowledges (as did the EOC) that nothing should be done to jeopardise the combat effectiveness of the Armed Forces. That principle is recognised by s85(4) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA) which provided that nothing in the SDA should render unlawful an act done for the purposes of ensuring the combat effectiveness of the Armed Forces.

  4.10  The EOC in its engagement meetings with the Armed Forces prior to the launch of the formal investigation in 2005 did press the Armed Forces to ensure that any restriction placed on women's roles in the Armed Forces was strictly necessary to ensure combat effectiveness. The EOC's particular concern was that such restrictions should not be based on stereotypical views of the abilities of women to cope with pressures of frontline fighting or notions of "societal attitudes" being unwilling to accept a notion of women closing and killing with the enemy.

  4.11  The Commission acknowledges that the majority of roles within the Armed Forces are open to women. Despite restrictions on roles involving "closing and killing" with the enemy endorsed by the 2002 report on Women in the Armed Forces[22] women do play a frontline role in the Armed Forces. A vivid illustration of this was the award of the Military Cross to Private Michelle Norris in March 2007, the first time a Military Cross has been awarded to a woman.

  4.12  However, the Commission believes it is important to constantly re-evaluate and vigorously test any restrictions on the role of women in the Armed Forces. The report of the 2007 Servicemen's survey identified a need to address stereotypical views of the relative qualities of servicemen and servicewomen.[23] The report suggested that one means of doing this would be to publicise the contribution of servicewomen on the frontline. The Commission believes that the report finding also points to a need for the Armed Forces to regularly re-examine restrictions to ensure they are not themselves rooted in stereotyped views of women's capabilities.

  4.13  Section 10.2 of the same report notes the evidence that greater experience of working alongside women "is linked with more positive attitudes towards working with women and less agreement that the stereotypical and biological differences between men and women pose challenges to mixed teams". This underlines the "virtuous circle" that can be created by not only increasing the number of women recruited but ensuring that they work alongside servicemen. The findings suggest that the more this happens, the better the attitude of service men towards service women. This will, in the Commission's view, contribute towards a decrease in the level of sexual harassment, which should in turn feed into encouraging more potential female recruits to apply to join the Armed Forces.

Flexible working

  4.14  The Commission acknowledges that the Armed Forces have made great strides since the days when servicewomen were forced to leave the Forces when they become pregnant. The Commission acknowledges that the Armed Services have taken steps to ensure that servicewomen return to service after maternity leave, for example, by restricting their deployment for the period immediately after their return.

  4.15  One area of concern identified by the EOC and raised in the tri-service meetings in the period 2000-2002, however, was the pressure faced by service women with families in reconciling the demands of their role and service personnel with their role as mothers. The statutory right to request flexible working does not apply to the Armed Forces,[24] although in the tri-service meetings with the EOC the MoD indicated that it would approach any such requests in the spirit of that legislation.

  4.16  Flexible working was not within the scope of the FI Agreement and the EOC did not engage directly with the Armed Forces about this issue after the discussion at the tri-service meetings. However, flexible working was the second most common issue raised by callers to the EOC's Helpline in the period from January 2005 until the end of September 2007. Whilst stressing that operational effectiveness is obviously the priority, the Commission would urge the Armed Forces to scrutinise rigorously any policies which prevent flexible working to ensure that a requirement to work a certain work-pattern is necessary to ensure operational effectiveness rather than being rooted in the belief that service in the Armed Forces is of its very nature incompatible with flexible working.


  5.1  Employment in the Armed Forces is specifically excluded from the scope of Part II (the employment provisions) of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) by s.64(7) of that Act. The Commission believes that this blanket exemption is unnecessary and that the Act provides sufficient scope for sensible application in the Armed Forces, allowing justification of less favourable treatment where, for example, health and safety might be compromised.

  5.2  The exemption mentioned in 5.1 above does not mean that disability-related issues are irrelevant, particularly given the need to retain and redeploy highly trained and skilled service personnel who have become disabled in the course of their duties. Equally, members of the Armed Forces may have partners or children who are disabled so for example, the design and maintenance of housing is highly relevant.

  5.3  The MoD and Armed Forces are not exempt from the other provisions of the DDA. In particular, the DDA applies to the MoD in relation to civilian employees and applies to the MoD as a public authority and the Armed Forces as service providers and managers of premises.


  6.1  The Commission has more limited information about the factors currently affecting the recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces of service personnel who are homosexual, of particular religions or beliefs or whose age differs from that of other service personnel or potential recruits. The main reasons for this limited information are:

  6.1.1  Discrimination in employment on these grounds has been unlawful only since 2003 in the case of sexual orientation and religion or belief, and 2006 in the case of age. As yet there is not a body of case law equivalent to that in relation to race and gender in particular which would assist in highlighting particular issues of concern.

  6.1.2  Prior to the creation of the Commission on 1 October 2007, there was no equivalent statutory body with a duty to ensure the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief or age. The Commission has not inherited a body of knowledge and experience such as it did from the EOC, CRE and DRC in relation to gender, race and disability.

  6.1.3  In the case of sexual orientation discrimination, the Armed Forces' prior policy of requiring homosexual service personnel to leave the Forces meant that there was no need for the Forces to seek to identify and address the issues facing gay men and lesbians in the Armed Forces.

  6.2  Until further work is done it is difficult for the Commission to provide categorical evidence on the full range of issues which may impact in particular on service personnel or potential recruits who are homosexual, of particular religions or beliefs or whose age differs from that of other service personnel or potential recruits

  6.3  The Commission strongly believes, however, that the issue of harassment is one which affects gay men and lesbians in the Armed Forces. That view is derived both from information provided by individuals who have contacted the Commission and its predecessor bodies for assistance; cases in the public domain, such as the high-profile case of Lance Bombardier Kerry Fletcher; and information included in the 2007 Servicewomen's Survey.[25]

  6.4  Although the situation is less clear cut, the Commission and its predecessor bodies are also aware of cases of harassment which appear to be on grounds of religion.

31 March 2008

13   although for disability, not in relation to employment in the armed forces. Back

14   Not printed. Back

15   Article 5, Race Relations Act 1976 (Statutory Duties) Order 2001. For further explanation see the information on the CRE's website via the Commission's website at: Back

16   For example, many Police Forces and Fire Brigades are increasingly using positive action such as targeted open days to encourage applications from black and ethnic minority people. Back

17   The monitoring report for 2006/07 has not yet been provided to the Commission. Back

18   Available at: Back

19   The surveys are available at: Publications/EqualityAndDiversity/Gender/ Back

20   See the table at page iv of the 2007 report and paras This compares with 17% in the 2005 survey but as the 2007 report notes, changes in the survey questions mean it is not possible to weigh the significance of this apparent decrease. Back

21   The FI Agreement and the Phase 3 action Plan are available at: Back

22 Back

23   see in particular section 10.2 of the survey report. Back

24   See s.192 Employment Rights Act 1996 which omits the provisions in that act which apply to flexible working (part VIIIA) from the list of provisions applying to service in the Armed Forces. Back

25   An example is cited at paras of the 2007 Servicewomen's report. Back

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