'I had all the skills to get into RAF but – as a white man – they turned me down'

Jack Zanelli
Jack Zanelli

A male engineering graduate has said he believes he was one of the men discriminated against as part of the RAF’s target to improve diversity.

Jack Zanelli, 24, told the Telegraph that he felt “infuriated” at the prospect that he was not granted permission to proceed on the force’s recruitment scheme owing to the colour of his skin, and sex.

It comes after the RAF was on Wednesday accused of discriminating against 160 white men in its efforts to meet “aspirational diversity targets”.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston admitted to MPs at a Commons Defence Select Committee that the objectives of the recruitment scheme, which ran from November 2020 to March 2021, were “stretching aspirational levels of ambition”.

He admitted that it put “intolerable stress” on those tasked with achieving the targets; however he also said he was sure “there was no compromise of entry standards, no impact on the standard of recruits”.

Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston - Paul Crouch/Crown Copyright
Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston - Paul Crouch/Crown Copyright

Mr Zanelli, who lives in Stirling, said that in March 2021 he was taken to RAF Cranwell where he scored highly in the aptitude tests for both the Pilot, and the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Pilot tests.

However, in a subsequent interview, which was conducted over Skype, a recruiter told him that while he had done “very well”, he was not going to go forward in the recruitment process due to a “lack of leadership” experience.

“Considering the initial phase of RAF training, the ‘initial officer training’, is pretty much dedicated to building these skills I thought this was a pretty weak argument for them to defer me,” Mr Zanelli, who is now training to become a mortgage broker, said.

“They deferred me for a further six months for another interview, but I was 22 at the time and I felt I couldn’t postpone getting into a career any longer so I decided not to pursue the career, despite having wanted to be a pilot my whole life.”

Mr Zanelli said being told that he would not be progressing through the scheme “felt a bit odd”, given his academic qualifications and how well he had scored in the aptitude tests.

He added: “I’m not sure if I qualify as one of the 160 but it infuriates me that this is a potential reason as to why I wasn’t considered. It has made me doubt things.”

'Other candidates had better scores'

RAF sources insisted that if Mr Zanelli was not selected for a role in the RAF then this was because "other candidates had better scores".

They added that the discrimination issue was that the RAF "accelerated women and BAME people that had already been selected to the front of the queue for training".  They added that these candidates were not prioritised in selection.

An RAF spokesman said: “At no point did the RAF recruitment process select ethnic minority and female pilots over better qualified white male pilots. Over 80 per cent of our recruits during the period in question were white men.

"The error, which we have corrected and apologise for, was fast-tracking approximately 150 women and ethnic minority recruits, who had already passed all selection standards, on to earlier initial training courses.”

In August last year Group Captain Elizabeth Nicholl, who had been in charge of recruiting more women and ethnic minorities into the service, resigned in protest over the scheme.

All three services have been told to improve their diversity as they are predominantly made up of white men.

In response to the recent Women in the Armed Forces report, the Government pledged to ensure that women would comprise 30 per cent of the intake by 2030. The RAF went further and insisted it wanted to see the number of female recruits rise to 40 per cent by the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, recent data has shown that the military has struggled to retain women amid the numerous sexual harassment scandals engulfing the services.

The UK Armed Forces biannual diversity statistics found more women left than joined last year. According to the figures, 1,530 women left the Armed Forces in the year to September 2022, while 1,420 joined. Meanwhile, the number of women who joined the military in 2021 was higher than in 2022, at 1,940.