Methods: Employing qualitative methods, we recruited 120 active-duty enlisted soldiers from different posts to participate in focus groups (n=19). The focus groups, lasting about one hour each, were recorded and transcribed. Participants came from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds (53% White, 24% Black, 15% Other, and 8% not reported), with 30% identifying as Hispanic/Latino and 28% identifying as women. Using thematic analysis, three researchers generated a list of codes based on close review of the data. Coders met periodically to discuss their analyses. Main themes emerged from the coding process, with 96% rater agreement and data was coded a second time based on the main themes developed.
Results: The overarching theme regarding policy was that soldiers perceived diversity as “treating everyone with dignity and respect”, corresponding to one of the Army’s seven Core Values. Yet, Soldiers did not quite understand what inclusion meant and were not familiar with the Army’s definitions (Policy). Several themes emerged regarding everyday inclusion practices. Soldiers indicated that leaders did not discuss inclusion in their direct communications and did not outline behaviors expected from Soldiers related to inclusion of all members of the Unit (practice). In addition, soldiers perceived the implementation of diversity and inclusion through a limited lens pertaining only to required training - SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) and EO (Equal Opportunity) – both aimed at avoiding negative discriminatory and/or illegal behaviors. Soldiers noted that these trainings focused on what not to do in order to avoid “getting into trouble”, rather than on positive behaviors promoting inclusion (Practice).
Conclusion and Implications: Overall, the findings from this exploratory study indicate lack of familiarity and awareness of the Army’s inclusion definition. They also point to specific practices that were incongruent with promoting inclusion such as lack of leadership communication, narrow/unfocused scope of training, and unclear expectations regarding Soldier and leader inclusive behaviors. These findings highlight the need for leader targeted training on inclusive policies and behaviors, as well as accountability measures to ensure implementation of inclusive practices. Future research should promote a deeper understanding of policy-practice decoupling to advance social work science for social justice.