Published On: Sat, Feb 21st, 2015

UK Army Needs More Women and Ethnic Minorities, Says Top Officer

The British Army’s top officer has said that it needs a restructure to allow more female soldiers to rise to senior positions. General Sir Nicholas Carter, who is chief of general staff, said that to bring in the numbers it needs, they need to recruit more women. He argued that the Army has a “male career structure” the failed to encourage women to stay, and instead pushed them to leave.


Gen Carter said that the Army has “a number of break points which sadly encourage women to leave rather than encouraging them to stay.”  He said the Army needs a career structure to help women “pull right through to the top of the Army” to “maximise the talent…available in 51% of our society.”

In 2014, General Sir Peter Wall argued that the Army must consider allowing women to engage in close combat. Under current rules, female soldiers can serve on the front line but are not permitted to take part in close combat. But Gen Wall said that changing the rules would make the armed forces “look more normal”. Although the United States lifted its ban in 2013, the British Ministry of Defense won’t be reviewing the rules until 2018. Sir Peter said that he wanted women to “know the service is open to them”. He also said women “need to see they have equal opportunities right throughout the organisation.” Perhaps having LOWA desert boots for the UK Army worn by both men and women in close combat, women will feel more encouraged to stay and reach for top positions.

Gen Carter also reiterated his request to recruit more people from ethnic minorities. Just over 10% of regular Army personnel are black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people. But many of them come from the Commonwealth, and not from the UK. Gen Carter said that to reflect the changing make-up of the UK population, about 25% of new recruits over the next five years would need to be from ethnic minorities. He said senior officers should think “much harder about the way in which we embrace the consequences of diversity”. He said, “the way in which we change the organisation” needed to make it “one that reaches out to all types of British society”.

He also said that the culture of the Army would need to change to keep up with this changing demographic. This is to prevent bullying and harassment. “It is not good enough that we still have significant numbers of complaints of bullying, harassment and discrimination. These are areas that we genuinely have to attend to,” he insisted.

It is commendable that senior officials have been talking about these issues. But it’s also important that they take action to address them. Over the next few years, the Army will need to show that they can take action on the recommendations of their senior members. European law requires the Ministry of Defense to review their policy every eight years. The review in three years’ time may lead to some significant changes.