'Disbelief' as under-manned Royal Navy seeks to re-deploy officers to diversity and inclusion team

Sailors line up on the side of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales as it returns to Portsmouth Naval Base following a three-month deployment to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States
Sailors line up on the side of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales as it returns to Portsmouth Naval Base following a three-month deployment to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States - PA/Alamy

The Royal Navy is redeploying marines and sailors to become diversity and inclusion officers to enhance the “lived experience” of personnel amid ongoing recruitment challenges in manning its ships.

Three internal Royal Navy job advertisements, seen by The Telegraph, are attempting to attract serving sailors and marines to work on diversity policy. The roles are based in Navy Command HQ [NCHQ] in Portsmouth and are intended to “improve the lived experience of our people.”

A Royal Navy source told The Telegraph: “At a time when we’re massively undermanned, why does NCHQ want yet more people to concentrate on diversity and inclusion? You can imagine the sort of power-hungry social justice warriors this will attract too. We’re already inclusive; diversity will increase in time with the population.”

Lord West, who served as the First Sea Lord from 2002 to 2006, told The Telegraph: “Taking people from key and important roles to focus on diversity is nonsense. The Royal Navy has lost the plot. Obsessing over diversity and inclusion actually leads to recruitment issues. One needs just to look at the RAF’s positive discrimination schemes, which led to the exclusion of some white men. These diversity roles should be scrapped immediately.”

The Navy is advertising a role as a diversity and inclusion officer for those ranked Lieutenant Commander or Captain in the Royal Marines. The service is also looking for those ranked petty officers, chief petty officers, sergeants, or colour sergeants to transfer to a senior diversity and inclusion policy position. Marines and those who are able seamen are invited to apply for a position in the Navy’s “Climate Assessment Team.”

The Navy’s official diversity and inclusion policy document, effective as of February 2022, states that the service conducts climate assessments “to provide all those in command with an independent assessment of the lived experience of personnel.”

The document also outlines different diversity and inclusion roles in the navy, including diversity advisors, practitioners, and associates; the former two positions help advance “diversity and inclusion in the workplace” while the latter is a more informal role for sailors of any rank to support official diversity officers in their work within units.

Staffing crisis

The redeployment comes as the Royal Navy faces a significant recruitment crisis. In the year to March 2023, the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines failed their recruitment targets by 27 per cent, representing a shortfall of 1,037 personnel. Both organisations have failed to hit their recruitment targets every year since 2011.

Personnel problems are so acute for the navy that two warships, HMS Westminster and HMS Argyll, have had to be decommissioned to staff a new class of frigates. Calls earlier this year to send the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Red Sea following airstrikes on the Houthi rebels in Yemen were denied due to staff shortages.

Last year, the Royal Navy was criticised for wasting time and resources on diversity initiatives. In September 2023, The Telegraph revealed that an official guide on trans and non-binary awareness told sailors to introduce their pronouns at the start of meetings and interactions.

The guidance, which urged Navy staff to “avoid microaggressions like backhanded compliments and unhelpful tips,” was swiftly withdrawn for review by the Ministry of Defence.

Lord West described the initiative as “confusing” and unhelpful for “the cohesion and fighting ability of the Navy.” The navy also advertised diversity events for staff to attend for National Inclusion Week, held from 25 September to 1 October last year.

A Royal Navy spokesperson said: “These roles are not new. For the Navy to be effective, we must be able to recruit and retain the best people from the broadest cross-section of society, so the small number of colleagues who conduct these responsibilities use their practical experience to help improve training and working culture.”