Date of Award

May 2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Education and Organizational Leadership Development

Committee Member

Jane C Lindle

Committee Member

Robin Phelps-Ward

Committee Member

Mindy Spearman

Committee Member

Rachel Wagner

Abstract

Although women have been at the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point for over 40 years, they are an understudied group. This omission also encompasses studies about leader development and leader identity development. Over the years, West Point has focused its leadership research on identifying predictors of leadership performance and, with the integration of women cadets, merely added them into their studies to see if they had the same predictors as men. Other than this shift, the literature neglects how women’s experiences at West Point affected their leader identity development. To address this knowledge blind spot, this study employed feminist oral history to capture memories and stories of women from the Class of 1985, the sixth West Point class to include women. The artifact-elicitation interviews focused on how these alumnae interpreted the way their West Point experiences informed their leader identity development at the Academy, in the Army, in subsequent civilian careers, and today.

The intense holistic West Point leadership experience was not the only factor that informed the women’s leader identities. Being members of a small, marginalized group at a male-dominated, hypermasculine institution also played a significant role. The effects of tokenism, sexism, misogyny, and sexual misconduct added extra layers of challenge to the women’s journeys. As junior officers in a Cold War Army where they were often even more underrepresented, the women drew on and adapted the lessons learned from West Point to be effective leaders. Lessons from West Point continued to inform the women’s leader identities in subsequent civilian careers and in raising families and/or caretaking.

This study helped fill a gap in the understanding of women’s experiences at West Point, especially around leader identity development, and was the first study to take a longitudinal approach. Future studies on West Point women from subsequent decades would help increase overall understanding of the experiences of women at West Point, in the Army, and in other traditionally male-dominated institutions like STEM. In addition, a more qualitative approach to understanding the leader identity development of all cadets would help make the leadership research at West Point more in-depth and robust.

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