Abstract: Perceptions of Favoritism in the U.S. Army (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

443P Perceptions of Favoritism in the U.S. Army

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Sara Kintzle, PhD, Research Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Gisele Corletto, MSW, Project Specialist, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Eva Alday, MPH, Project Specialist, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Michele Calton, PhD, Research Psychologist, The U.S. Army Research Institute
Michalle Mor Barak, Ph.D., Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Carl Castro, PhD, Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Favoritism within organizations can lead to negative individual and institutional outcomes. Research has found that favoritism impacts motivation, job stress, job satisfaction, climate, and achievement (Tekiner & Aydin, 2016; Arasli et al., 2008; Loewe et al., 2008; Aslin, 2018). While the hierarchal structure of the Army may appear to guard against preferential treatment, it is anecdotally well-known that favoritism is common in the Army. As the Army works towards initiatives to promote inclusion, research examining barriers to inclusivity, such as favoritism, which by its nature connotes exclusion, are of increasing importance. The purpose of this research was to explore how and why favoritism occurs in the Army.

Methods: Enlisted Soldiers participated in focus groups on the broad topic of diversity and inclusion. Soldiers were asked to describe whether they had experienced or witnessed favoritism in the Army, and their perceptions of how favoritism occurred. The researchers conducted 19 focus groups with 120 active duty enlisted Soldiers. The sample was diverse in gender (28% women), race (53% White, 24% Black, 15% Other, 8% no report), ethnicity (30% Latino), and rank (80% junior enlisted). The focus groups lasted approximately one hour each and were recorded and transcribed for analysis. The researchers conducted two rounds of thematic analyses. Analysis began with a line-by-line examination of the data by three researchers (i.e., coders) leading to the identification of codes. Coders met at key stages through the coding process to compare and discuss their analyses and interpretations. A final set of themes were developed from the coding process (96% rater agreement) and data were recoded a second time utilizing round one themes.

Results: Why favoritism occurs, who receives preferential treatment, and how favoritism occurs all emerged as prominent themes in the analysis. Soldiers indicated that individuals who were high performers, well liked, had families, and were on friendly terms with NCOs, were often selected to receive special treatment. Soldiers also revealed that those making decisions often favored individuals within their own social group. Participants reported gender as a reason for favoritism, with men and women each perceiving the opposite gender as receiving preferential treatment. Soldiers reported favoritism played a role in whether punishment was received, severity of punishment, and enforcement of regulations. Soldiers also reported that favoritism played a role in who received mentorship, training opportunities, leave time, job assignments, and promotions. Favoritism was found to be associated with lower morale, job disengagement, and poor views of leaders.

Conclusion: This study revealed the presence of strong perceptions of favoritism within the Army. Favoritism lowers morale, reduces cohesion, and lowers performance. Preferential treatment can also impact an individual’s commitment to and experience in their organization. Favoritism is a threat to mission readiness. As the Army works to build more cohesive teams that are diverse, addressing favoritism must be a part of this effort. Knowledge of how and why favoritism occurs can offer Soldiers, and particularly their leaders, awareness of such behaviors. Such awareness can enable appropriate action to prevent or dissuade acts of preferential treatment.