Newly released research from RAND Europe recognising the strategic benefits of diversity in UK and US military recruitment follows hot on the heels of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) announcement to adjust its body-mass intake requirements for female recruits.

RAND Europe consulted with tech companies in the private sector for its report, Leveraging Diversity for Military Effectiveness, to examine the contributions of neurodiverse employees in the development of emerging technologies, recommending that waivers be available for autistic recruits not normally eligible for service. The research viewed the fitness requirement in non-combat cyber-related roles to be an impediment to meeting recruitment targets in cybersecurity-related occupations.

With the burgeoning importance of artificial intelligence and algorithmic determination technologies within the armed services, the authors of the report draw special attention to the necessity to involve input from a diverse range of backgrounds research and design to avoid imbedding systemic discrimination and improve the overall accuracy of results.

Ben Caves, senior research leader at RAND Europe, said: “It’s clear that the UK and US militaries are facing a range of new challenges on a number of fronts. Our research finds that to address these challenges, the military needs diverse perspectives and skillsets – and that means employing, retaining and promoting a diverse workforce.”

USMC body composition standards updated

In the US, a recognition of the need to adjust selection practices to reflect the diversity of recruits has already shown results. Following a year-long study to evaluate current body composition standards the USMC have announced that from the start of 2023 there will be a 1% increase in the total allowable body fat for female USMC recruits.

Combined with a more precise measurement routine, it is believed that the new testing process will erroneously identify 6.3% fewer female Marines as exceeding the body fat standards, allowing them to enlist.

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“We have updated the maximum percentage allowed for females to reflect what the science told us was an equally-balanced and standardised body composition across the force,” said Lt Gen Kevin Iiams, commanding general, Training and Education Command, USMC.

Diversity as a strategic benefit

RAND Europe’s research questions identified recruiting service-people with linguistic skills and cultural understanding more reflective of a diverse population as a strategic benefit relevant to overseas theatres of operation. The authors recommended increasing recruiter diversity as a key step to improving this outreach goal.

Since 2015, the proportion of BAME personnel joining the UK Regular Forces has increased from 5.2% in, to 13.7% in 2020, exceeding its earlier targets, with 17.9% in the British Army, compared to 8% in the Royal Navy and 5.9% in the Royal Air Force, according to the 2020 biannual diversity statistics from the Ministry Of Defence.

The RAND report suggests that blanket waivers for disabilities in specific career fields run the risk of stigmatising the career field and individuals with disabilities in those careers, with the advice that follows being to deliver waivers on a ‘case-by-case’ basis to address specific threats.