Do the new Army recruitment adverts represent inclusive recruitment, or political correctness gone mad?
One former senior officer, Major General Tim Cross, told Radio 4’s Today programme that the Army was about delivering fighting power and “not being nice to people”. Once again, these views reflect the resistance to measures to improve levels of diversity and inclusion if the British military is to be fit for 21st-century purpose.
Serving officers, including the Chief of the General Staff and the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, have been vocal in stating that the Army needs to recruit from ‘non-traditional’ demographics if it is to survive. The Army is currently below its target size of 82,000 full-time soldiers, and the changing demographics of the UK mean that the Army needs to be able to reach out effectively to more women and more recruits from ethnic minorities.
Army recruitment – the benefits of recruiting more women
Whether these former officers like it or not, things are changing. The government has lifted the ban on women serving in ground close-combat roles, and this year will be the first where all roles in the British military will be open to women. Until now, 40% of roles have been off-limits to women; the Army’s leaders are nearly exclusively from these backgrounds.
Women currently make up approximately 10% of the British Armed Forces, and this figure is even smaller in the British Army. In an era of increased complexity and more community-centric military operations, the forces need to bring in new perspectives.
Research from the business world consistently shows that diverse organisations perform better and problem-solve more effectively, and the military should be no exception. A more diverse workforce in the British Army would, for instance, be better equipped to work with local populations, such as the way female soldiers were deployed to engage with Afghan women who were not culturally permitted to interact with non-related men.
The British Army recruitment adverts have drawn special attention to the emotional support available to its soldiers. Service personnel deserve to be supported emotionally and physically during and after their service. This is not “being nice to people”: it’s the MoD’s legal duty of care and an important factor in the retention of personnel. Personally, I don’t see any reason why treating people fairly and providing them with the support they need should undermine the Army’s fighting capabilities. It’s the same as it would be in any business, especially when competition for talent is so high: if attention isn’t being paid to the working environment, the best will leave.
I do take some umbrage at the use of a female soldier in the new Army recruitment adverts, as it reinforces stereotypes that women (and not men) are emotional at a time when women are facing the challenge of integrating fully into the Army, and when it is young men for whom suicide is the leading cause of death in the UK.
Appropriate language at work – the landscape needs to change
The media coverage has also referred to the Joint Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit, known as JEDI, and discussions to stop the military using language such as ‘manpower’ and ‘gentlemen’s agreement’.
Far from ‘pandering to political correctness’, this reflects a wider social shift in the appropriate use of language in the workplace. Such language undermines efforts to build an inclusive culture where gender is concerned, and continues to reinforce women’s sense of ‘otherness’ in an organisation where they are in such a minority.
The military, like many other organisations, is wrestling with the challenges of building inclusive cultures. Any efforts at more inclusive recruitment – with a focus on diversity, culture and appropriate workplace language – deserve to be recognised for moving the conversation forward, and these traditional institutions along with it.