Attracting and retaining BAME people in the armed forces

Image of Sandra Kerr OBE

 

Last week I attended the Royal Air Force’s Diversity Conference ‘Seeking Diversity Selecting Talent’ chaired and hosted by Air Commodore Chris Luck at RAF College, Cranwell for their Black Asian and Minority Ethnic [BAME] conference to share our race at work survey demographics (look out for the first report coming in November). It was great to hear more about the work the RAF are doing to recruit and attract more diverse candidates – and the lessons that other employers could learn from them.

We know from our ‘Aspiration and Frustration 2010’ research that 50% of BAME people are ‘turned off’ from a career in the armed forces, citing possible family disapproval, a lack of opportunities to progress and few role models as their reasons why. Additionally, many armed forces roles are in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), where BAME people are persistently under-represented. Add in things like ‘military families’, where several generations are in the forces, and it’s easy to see why many BAME people may perceive the sector as a ‘closed shop’.

So what can the armed forces – and other organisations - do to increase BAME representation? Our Gender and Race Benchmark offers a number of approaches that produce similar rates of conversion from hiring to application for BAME and white candidates, including targeting diverse candidates at recruitment fairs and using a range of recruitment sources. This is something that all employers need to do to ensure they are not overlooking potential talent. Additionally, at the conference I spoke to young BAME people in the RAF, which was incredibly interesting as we don’t always get to hear their views – but it’s key we speak to young people to help understand what attracts them to a particular sector and how we can help them access roles.

There now needs to be a continued push to ensure that talented candidates from diverse backgrounds are being recruited into the forces and supported to develop their careers there. Only then will we have armed forces that reflect the communities and country they serve.

The Royal Air Force’s STEM/Employability Skills Programme also offers a great example of best practice in engaging with young BAME people by giving them the opportunity to gain relevant STEM skills, targeting their approach and building diversity targets into schools engagement and recruitment plans. They were the well-deserved winners of the Google Future Workforce Award at the Race for Opportunity Awards 2015 this month and I hope other organisations will follow their lead.

However, it isn’t just about attracting talented people into the armed forces; they also need to retain them and enable them to progress. One way that we know is effective in doing this is creating strong networks which enable employees to build relationships and gain the necessary skills. The Armed Forces is also a leader in this area, winning the Race for Opportunity Employee Network Award (Public Sector) earlier this month for the Armed Forces Muslim Association. Their success shows the importance of collaboration both within organisations and across sectors to learn from each other – something that can be applied across a range of industries.

It was also great to see their ‘Pilots of the Caribbean’ showcase of Black men and women who served in the RAF in the previous world wars for Black History Month and to hear a number of inspirational vignettes from individuals from their current network of BAME Ambassadors – role models that currently exist within the organisation. It is a great example of good practice that other employers can consider.

In short, whilst there are persistent difficulties around attracting BAME people to careers in the armed forces, they are making progress in this area. Now there needs to be a continued push to ensure that talented candidates from diverse backgrounds are being recruited into the forces and supported to develop their careers there. Only then will we have armed forces that reflect the communities and country they serve.