Abstract: Does the U.S. Military Promote Racial and Economic Equality for African American Women? a Qualitative Study of the Military Promotion Process (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

331P Does the U.S. Military Promote Racial and Economic Equality for African American Women? a Qualitative Study of the Military Promotion Process

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Markus Whitehead, MSW, PhD. Candidate, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Faith Hopp, PhD, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, Detroiti, MI
Background and Purpose:The United States military provides many economic opportunities for Americans. However, manyAfrican American women in these settings face racist and sexist behaviors in the workplace that limit their military career growth. To better address these inequalities, more information is needed on how African American women in the military experience these challenges in the promotion process, and on the role of racial and gender intersectionality as it relates to occupational stress and promotion opportunities. This research addresses this gap by examining the lived experiences of African American women veterans’ perspectives of the promotion process within the United States armed forces.

Methods:Participants consisted of 12 African American women veterans serving in the military either on active duty or reserve status, as well as retired veterans. African American women veterans at least 17 years old were selected for the study. The participants consisted of commissioned officers and enlisted personnel. The youngest participant’s age was 17 years at the time of enlistment and the oldest participant’s age at the time of retirement was 47 years. Participants serving in the National Guard and Reserves forces totaled 8, and 4 participants served on active duty. All participants self identified as African American women, and participants were selected using a convenience nonprobability snowball sampling technique. The results were analyzed using phenomenological analysis techniques.


Findings:Several themes related to the lived experience of the promotion process emerged from the data; 1) the role of the armed forces in enhancing occupational and financial opportunities; 2) challenges related to promotion to supervisory ranks due to their race and gender; 3) conflict among supervisors as a result of being viewed as the ‘mean Black woman’ or ‘too bossy’; 4) the perception that they did not fit the stereotypes of the dominant culture; 5).  Some participants also experienced incidents of lateral oppression perpetrated by Black male and female supervisors; 6) sexual harassment and assault, including sexual assault.


Conclusion and Implications:The findings reveal that African American women continue to be viewed within restrictive socially constructed frameworks of the dominant culture that obstruct and limit promotion opportunities among this group. The findings suggest that command level policies should be created that expand promotion opportunities as well as creating mentorship opportunities among this group.

This study adds to the body of research examining the lived experiences and challenges of African American female veterans serving in the armed forces and provides needed information on how racial and gender intersectionality among this group influences occupational stress and promotion anxiety. Sharing their lived experiences gives voice to the successes and challenges faced by these women, and inform policy directives as well as initiatives that may mitigate identified themes that impede promotion opportunities among this group.