Defence secretary Michael Fallon and British Sikh Association chairman Rami Ranger each signed the covenant
By Drew McLachlan
Defence secretary Michael Fallon has said that a greater diversity amongst the higher ranks of the armed forces is key to increasing the number of ethnic minorities enlisting for service.
Fallon was speaking at an event hosted by the armed forces last Thursday (23) taking place ahead of Vaisakhi – the Sikh new year – which falls on April 13.
He said: “The most important thing of all, to address diversity at all levels, is to show people from the Sikh community that you don’t just join, you can also get on.
“I think it’s important for very aspirational communities, like the Sikhs, to see people succeed, to find role models in people at senior ranks. That way they can see that there is no barrier, it’s only your talent – not your community or religion – that is taken into account.”
Last week’s event was to mark the signing of a covenant by the British Sikh Association to formally recognise the ties between the British Sikh community and the armed forces.
The association also pledged to urge the 24 employers among their membership to provide job opportunities to service leavers.
Rami Ranger, chairman of the British Sikh Association, said: “The covenant demonstrates our commitment as citizens of the UK to our illustrious armed forces, whilst at the same time recognising their round-the-clock, 365 days a year commitment for our freedom.”
During the event, members of the association spoke in support of the armed forces and archival footage of Sikh soldiers serving in the Second World War and other conflicts was shown.
The event ties into the ministry of defence’s goal to ensure ten per cent of new recruits come from a BAME (British Asian and Minority Ethnic) community.
Despite the current demographics improving each year, BAME representation at recruitment level remains under six per cent.
That number includes the 170 Sikhs currently serving in army, royal navy and royal air force.
Fallon identified a “lack of understanding” among ethnic minority communities about the role of the armed forces as one of the major barriers to diversity.
He said: “I remember speaking after the floods to a Muslim woman in Bradford. Soldiers had been placing sandbags along the street, and she said to me ‘we never realised the army was here to help us’. There are sometimes barriers to understanding that we need to break down.”
Fallon also commented on the practical benefits of diversity within security forces, in regards to intelligence, citing the recent attack on parliament.
“Our armed forces are stronger if they are more diverse, because they then represent the whole of the country that they are guarding and protecting. But it’s also important for the armed forces to understand these communities, to reach into these communities, and we will have to work harder at that. We should be very careful about condemning the attack [on parliament last week] as Islamic. It was connected to Islamist streaks, but it was not Islamic.”