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Wild Blue Yonder on the Air - Ep. 18 - Drs. Megan Hennessey & Stephanie Erwin on dynamics of gender equity in PME

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  • By Drs Megan Hennessey & Stephanie Erwin

Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air University, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other US government agency.

Dr. Margaret Sankey: Welcome to Wild Blue Yonder On the Air, Air University's podcast. We're here this morning with Doctors Megan Hennessey and Stephanie Erwin. They've done some fascinating research on the dynamics of gender equity in PME. We're so glad to have you with us to talk.

Dr Stephanie Erwin: Thank you. Good morning.

Dr. Megan Hennessey: Good morning, Dr. Sankey, thank you so much.

Sankey: So I just want to start off with something that got this on my radar, I was reading comments about the student experience in PME, and one of them just absolutely stopped me cold, and this is anonymized from the pool. It was, 'Although women and civilians are included in the program, their opinions are often dismissed, while contribution grades often encouraged, increased in-class participation failed to facilitate an environment that actively allows for the sharing of perspectives. For instance, on one occasion, it was stated that as a civilian, you wouldn't understand.' During the seminar statements included, 'You're a pilot, so of course you brief well.' While I believe that alienation is not intentional, the homogenous picture of the staff fosters an environment that is not inclusive of diverse people and perspectives.' So this seems like a real National Security problem. Right?

Hennessey: It absolutely is because these men and women that we are educating are our future national security leaders, and you can't be what you can't see, so any climate or culture that we're fostering in professional military education is one that will be perpetuated in the attitudes and behaviors of our future leaders.

Erwin: I think it's also important to keep in mind that as we're thinking through these conversations, that not only are these students going on to be National Security Advisors at some of the top-most levels of the government, both active duty and civilian, but they are also representations of a population that is much younger and junior to them, so you have juniors, sailors, soldiers, airmen, marines, looking up to a population that really doesn't look like them. It doesn't look not only like the American society at large, but also like the larger military community, which is significantly more diverse and representative than the senior leadership.

Sankey: We've seen that the DOD does put a lot of stock in diversity. There are mandates like Women Peace and Security or the Army’s People Strategy. Can you tell me a little bit about those legally mandated supports?

Erwin: Absolutely, I think you hit it on the head. Right? The legally mandated piece. They've tried to take a military perspective, which is doctrine and policy and regulation to something that is a very socially evolving conversation, and it doesn't quite marry well in a lot of ways, it becomes the letter of the law approach when it comes to military, so the Army People Strategy, the Women's Peace and Security initiatives are attempts to put these things into practice but it becomes much more difficult when you haven't really addressed the institutional and cultural environment in which problems are allowed to arise. It's one thing to have this policy at the higher levels but if there is no concurrent grassroots initiative to support that and to become ingrained within that culture, it's not really going to make a significant impact on the actual daily lived experiences of women and people of color in service.

Sankey: So this is a really critical ingredient to a 21st century force that can meet the challenges of strategic competition, and professional military education is one of the big ways that these ideas can be implicated. Your research is on senior-level PME, and the Army War College Leadership commissioned the initial phases of this. What are the features of these PME institutions that make it an effective arena to achieve these changes?

Hennessey: Thanks for the question, Dr. Sankey. I think it's important to keep in mind the context around how the study kicked off and the help that Dr. Erwin and I had in completing the research, so this was a partnership between myself, I was the Director of Educational Methodology at the Army War College at the time, and together with our Educational Methodology Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dr. Jenner, who is now at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. And then as phase two of the study, and we'll go into what that looked like, went on more recently, Dr. Brett Weigle, who is currently a professor at the Army War College in the Department of Military Strategy, Planning and Operations helped us, so this was truly a team effort, and it's been going on a long time. It kicked off in October of 2018, when the Dean of the School Strategic Manpower, who was my supervisor at the time, was very sensitive to what we could do building off of the burgeoning energy around things like WPS initiatives to make the climate and experience at the Army War College better for faculty and students, and a key component of how we attacked this problem was through looking at how students were assigned to seminars in the resident education program.

We knew that because of the way that PME is structured, this was a really unique opportunity in social sciences research, so we have what looks like a very homogenous population in the student body, although our research uncovered that it is anything but homogenous when you start looking at individual experiences and not just superficial vectors of diversity, my language, not the language of the field. Also, some key components of how the students arrive to the resident PME experience, so there is no self-selection, you don't apply necessarily. It's a very controlled process of admission and who gets to go at what time, and that's broken down along structural lines, so however many people from a certain military occupational specialty or a branch of service to make sure that you have the joint acculturation experience.

And it's also very bounded experiences. A 10-month residential degree program, so you have a set start and a set end, and there's also very little attrition from the student body, so that is very unique in higher education. Finally, from a social science research perspective, you have 25 seminars running concurrently, three hours every day supposedly teaching the same material in every seminar, although we know there's some flex. This is so unique in social sciences research to have these opportunities, so it really opened the door to some rich comparative analysis through a cross-sectional study like we undertook. And again, we started in October of 2018, and we are still looking at the data, so it's four years and going strong.

Sankey: Having taught in IDE and SDE, it's really interesting to go from a much bigger pool of majors, 0-4s to the Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel level, especially when it comes to diversity among that student population since the pipelines of promotion are still catching up to representing the force as a whole. You mention in your research that the analog in the civilian world is corporate boards and the very senior executives on them. What does the civilian business world think about the importance of diversity at that kind of level?

Hennessey: Yeah, so we looked at the literature and what we know from executive education as well as the business or corporate sector, because of the years of experience, the high rank, the levels of the education of the people in those environments' very similar to senior service level education in PME, and what we found is indubitable, that diversity improves all kinds of outcomes. As former Director of Education and Methodology, current director of a Teaching and Learning Center, my interest is in learning outcomes, but in the corporate sector, they're thinking about money and, how can we capitalize on diversity? And the literature is strong but it works. When you introduce diversity to your groups, whether that's on your boards or the people doing the work, you have better outcomes. The group comes together, it's a more successful end product that's received better, and I think that it is also a clear echo to what we are seeing in the WPS literature and the impact of the presence of women in peacekeeping processes. I think the number that I most recently saw was that any kind of peacekeeping process that includes women in the process has a 35% less likely to fail metric. That's huge, that's huge, so our peers in the business world know this and we need to catch up to them in military education.

Sankey: A senior developmental education institution is really invested in fulfilling exposure to joint civilian inter-agency colleagues and military personnel of different career backgrounds and our international partners from around the world, and when the big classroom assignments are made, I often joke that this is the world's most complicated seating chart. The emphasis is on diversity of thought. What is the intended outcome of that sort of exposure?

Erwin: That's a great question. I think that's the big conversation. Right? Is this concept of diversity of thought? We have one participant in our study who noted that, 'I'm torn between the focus on things like diversity of thought, which I think is really important, but from my own perspective, I think the way diversity is used right now in PME world, in the military as well, is in particular to focus on that diversity of thought at the expense of demographic diversity.' And I think that we've misconstrued how we move through these conversations of diversity within the military, prior to combat exclusion repeal, the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell', and a lot of these initiatives starting during World War II, which allowed us to move towards a more inclusive military and more representative military. Prior to that, the diversity that we saw in order to create a much more innovative and comprehensive experience, and leadership was focused on diversity of background occupationally. Right? It might be differences in profession within the military, whether you're a tank guy, infantry, pilot, it might be whether your rural or urban childhood experiences came in, what state you were from, but it was still relatively demographically a homogenous white male population.

However, as we move these policy changes, what we're seeing is this re-emphasis on diversity of thought has not been mitigated. It has not evolved to be more comprehensive in the identity saliences, which many of our military service members have, it doesn't really incorporate the change in demographics representation, which exists within the military at large, as well as within senior leadership, it's also not really reflective of where the military is moving. It's still focused on a very much troops-on-the-ground mentality of what you are as a person when you are a soldier, a sailor, and a marine, coastguardsman or guardian, without really capturing all the different identities which come together to create an individual service member that coalesce and that which can bring a much richer understanding and innovative experience throughout the military at all different levels.

So I think it's important to keep in mind that we start with this really understandable emphasis on diversity of thought, but we have not moved beyond that, and I think that we saw that with this study, in particular, our participants saw this as they talked about their experiences, that it hasn't really taken that next step, and PME has only served to really reinforce this emphasis on diversity of thought. We particularly saw this in conversations regarding intersectionality this is like the counterproductive sea of sameness in PME, that they think they are all different because they have different backgrounds, but in reality, when someone walks into the room, everyone looks the same, so how do you actually get to jointness when superficially everyone is really reflective of the same mindset and background?

Sankey: Well, and I'd like to follow up on this a little bit because when we put this together with SDE's limited numbers of people who are demographically diverse, some second and third-order effects start to appear. It's understandable that they want to emphasize, 'We're all green', or 'We're all blue, or 'We're all under the DoD umbrella', but what are some of the disadvantages of wrapping yourself in the 'We're all green', or 'We're all blue?'

Erwin: Sure, I think that this... Like I said, it really catches this idea of, 'We're all green.' Everything else that I am as a service member is irrelevant to the conversation, that if in theory, we go through these Accessions Communities, whether it's boot camp, ROTC, the Service Academies, that the minute you put the uniform on, you cease being all the other things that you are, really doesn't capture the reality and the totality of a lived experience of a service member. It also doesn't really create space for new ideas and innovation in spaces of leadership decision-making if the idea is that we're all the same and we are easily replaceable, which is certainly a requirement in concepts of war, that you could replace one service member with another when it comes to training, but the reality of it is, when you want innovative decision-making and you want successful leadership at the strategic level, you really need to have people who bring different concepts, different ideas, different experiences to the table, and this counterproductive concept of, 'We're all green', or 'We're all blue', whichever the case may be, really can be a detriment for that.

Sankey: Your research at Carlisle was an intensive study of 2020 seminars, looking at the effects on students who were in their classrooms as that diversity, often in multiple, interlocking, intersecting roles. Can you speak to the “token,” or I love the invented word “three-ken” experience as they describe living it?

Hennessey: Yes, absolutely, so at the time that we began our study, the seminar assignment process employed optimization algorithms to form seminars that each contained at least one woman, at least one member of a racial or ethnic minority, at least one civilian, three or four international students, and those were chosen from over 70 partner nations, officers serving in various military branches, and this achieves the prescribed jointness that is mandated by the joint staff, as well as officers serving in different components, so active duty, Reserve, National Guard, and then you have your officers with equities in the different military occupational specialties, so it sounds like a lot of diversity. But what we were seeing was this phenomenon of tokenism, when you have a gender prescription as part of that optimization algorithm, it sounds very scientific. Right? You have one woman who is becoming a symbol versus an individual to contribute to the seminar learning experience, and that woman becomes representative of a single women's perspective of which we know there is no such thing, just like there's no such thing as the single men's perspective, and so that's where the tokenism starts to evolve.

You're constantly looking in seminar dialogue towards that woman, 'Share the women's perspective, Colonel Smith. Tell us more about what it's like to be a woman in the infantry or in the logistics field.' This becomes harmful to the individual's experience as a student because the burden of representation is there, like it is not for other students in the classroom. So that is tokenism, and we see from the business literature and corporate America that this is a similar phenomenon there because there just aren't enough women to have equitable representation, and so we have this symbolic experience of being the one woman or the one other underrepresented person in the group.

Now, when you try to correct for that, you can have something that's called 'two-kenism', so you introduce two women per seminar instead of just one, and we've seen the benefit of that is not as significant as the new potential harms it could introduce. So there's now attention, the two women may be seen as competitive with each other or as co-conspirators, which introduces new levels of complications to the dynamics in the class. What we see being more helpful for the learning experience, for all students in the seminar, male or female, is when you get into the critical mass situation, so that is 30% of the group is female in this example or pick your other vector of diversity, so once you hit 30% as a representative in the group, that is a critical mass state. Now, there are around 10% of the student body at the Army War College who are women, so you do the math. It's just impossible to have a critical mass approach across 25 seminars in the resident education program, and I think that as our study explores, there are ways to garner the richness of the critical mass approach without being detrimental on the numbers scale, so lots of complicating issues here.

But our study was unique in that it introduced a new level of empirical rigor through the lens of the scholarship of teaching and learning to explore the impact on individual students and faculty. And we studied 523 different people at the Army War College across three years, and so a lot of our data, and the richness from it is qualitative, and I think Stephanie will talk a little bit about that, perhaps. But you just can't deny this kind of data, and I'm so glad, Dr. Sankey, that you gave us a chance to talk about it. Thank you so much.

Erwin: Yeah, I think what Megan was talking about with this concept of tokenism, 'two-kenism, critical mass, I think we saw that in phase one of our study with tokenism and dense dismissal, which was one of our findings, but I think we took it to the next level in phase two, where we really saw intersectionality emerge. This idea that not only is it the critical mass of women and gender, but specifically what happens when that same woman in every seminar is also the only person of color is also the only non-army active duty person. So what we found was that if you looked at three levels of identity, two which were demographic, race, and gender, and one which was military structural, or in this case basically not army active duty. We found that 73% of the students that were women were intersectional students, meaning they were reflecting multiple forms of diversity for that classroom, whereas only 7% of our male students were intersectional.

And what that intersectionality means is this idea of the compounding experience of multiple intersectional forms of identity. What happens when you're not just the one woman in the room but you're also the one woman and the one person of color and possibly also the one non-army active duty, and what we found when we looked and we wrote everyone down on paper, you see, there's this many people of color, this many women, this many reservists, this many air force, but it's really one person who was all of those things in one.

And so what does that do to their experience? Are they taking each hat off and speaking to it individually, are they speaking from a compounded experience? And we saw that emerge. A lot of them discussed they have this veritable diversity fatigue, where they're constantly having to represent all of these types of conversations, which Megan touched on with this idea of, 'Can you talk about it from the army women infantry perspective?' And so on and so forth. But we also saw a lot of the students, particularly that were our participants, talked about on the triple minority. It's tough being that minority in the room in all aspects.

“As a woman of color, I never forget that I'm a black woman, never, so everything that I do, I'm always very conscious of how I'm being viewed as a woman, and a black woman, and how I'm being judged as both,” and we saw this constantly emerge, and this is a really great piece of qualitative data, is that you're able to capture these real emotions, these real experiences, that on paper were... We can look at the 73% versus the 7%, and that's a pretty stark number to see on paper, but it's only further supported and really amplified when you hear the stories that they have to say in conjunction with that data.

Sankey: Part of your really rigorous social science methodology was focus groups even before the year started, and you had many participants who spoke very candidly about their preparations to attend SDE. What sort of unofficial networks or tips did they give each other to facilitate success in this environment?

Hennessey: I think that one of the really interesting things that they passed on throughout their informal networks to those who came after them to help prepare them, as you say, was to be careful, to be aware that gender would be an issue during their time at the Army War College in one way or another, and not in a complimentary way, and a lot of this is wrapped up in that concept of tokenism. When you have students that become symbols instead of just students, there is a weight to that, and that can be dangerous and detracts from the learning experience. They can't just be a student; they have to be all these other things at once. They also have to be careful about appearing in groups with other women students lest they'd be called co-conspirators or somehow othering.

And we've all heard this before. Right? You see a group of women and someone asks them, 'Oh, look at these troublemakers', or 'What are you scheming about?' And this isn't new. I'm a Religious Studies Major from my undergrad, so this reminds me of symbolism and hagiography, or seeing women as witches, and Erik Midelfort in 1972 calls it 'the socially indigestible group'. And we see that in military education based on the data that we collected from this study. The women are very aware that they are seeing, and these are my words, taking from Midelfort, as 'the socially indigestible group' because they are different, because we are not used to seeing women in military education at the same scale that we do as men on a daily basis.

And the women passed this down to those they knew who were coming after them, 'Be careful, be aware of how the men will see you, be aware of how the faculty interact', and that we got a lot of rich data along those lines, including women students who were very observant of how male faculty treated their female co-workers. Multiple cases of male faculty undermining female faculty credentials in front of the students. Male faculty commenting on women faculty’s bodies in front of the students. The students see this and they tell others, and it impacts whether or not they want to come back on the faculty. So we said at the beginning of our podcast, where you can't be what you can't see. Well, there are other nuances to what is seen in the seminar learning environment, and that definitely was revealed in our study, and I know Dr. Erwin can share a little bit more on the networks of support that evolved as part of that experience.

Erwin: Absolutely, so it was really interesting to see that a lot of our students, once they did arrive, they got the scouts, this background, reaching out to their personal connections prior to arrival but once they got there, they really delved really deeply into these two what we termed 'affinity groups', they're the two types of groups that might emerge. The first one is these networks, which are very prescribed and formal. Women of the War College is one example. An opportunity for some of this formal networking to happen through connections that are set and standardized, but the other kind is these communities. We see these a lot in being in communities of practice in the literature.

But also we saw them as very emergent and informal. It might be a Facebook group that they join. It might just be a group chat that happens. We saw this a lot because a lot of the students will discuss this idea that they can really connect in a lot of ways that are professionally and personally supportive when they have these connections, when they have these groups to lean on, especially in an environment which may not always be the most supportive, as we see with PME. One of the quotes that I think is really particularly poignant when it comes to this is, 'I have another female counterpart who's not in my same seminar but that I can have conversations with, and we like uplift each other. Even though we may think the same or may not think the same, we eventually talk ourselves out of those negative thoughts and try to spin to a positive note. To be honest with you, if I did not have that, I'm not sure that I would still be here. I think I would have called it quits within the first couple of weeks.'

And I think that really harkens to this idea that women need women. Right? This idea that when you see other women who look like you, even if you don't necessarily have a lot of other things in common, knowing that they're there, that they are going through that same experience, can be just as impactful as actually having a personal relationship, and so they would use it to bounce ideas off each other. One of the other cool quotes we had was that a group of women that were in the same seminar, they had this group chat, and they would be like silently clapping for each other or high-fiving in the background whenever one of them would really make great poignant comments or really stand out in seminar because they didn't get that support and re-affirmation from their male colleagues or faculty. And I felt like that was really capturing this idea that these affinity groups, whether classmates, personal, professional, networks or communities, really create the environment when it doesn't actually exist in the seminar itself.

Sankey: Once the school year started, you did extensive ethnographic observations in the seminar rooms, the results were not at all unfamiliar to women in civilian contexts, but what sort of gender norming carried over into the PME realm that you observe?

Erwin: That's a great question, Margaret. We saw a number of different ways that this emerged. We did both observations in the actual classroom and in virtual classrooms, and I make that distinction because we really saw different types of gender norming come to the forefront in those two different types. In the actual physical classroom, we saw a lot of gatekeeping, whether it was, the standard female student would say something and the male student would say it in a different way, and it would be much better received or even acknowledged once it was reframed. The other way we saw was this validation that no matter how poignant or intelligent or thoughtful a comment by a female student might be, if someone didn't say, 'Oh, that's a great idea. You make a really great point', it doesn't really count. It's not really well-received unless it's affirmed by either the faculty member or another male student.

But what was particularly interesting for me was when we went to the virtual classrooms and we started doing observations there, we really saw the disproportionate requirements of familial responsibilities play out. When our students, if they were both a male and female student, both attending PME and they have two small children, the male student would be in a back office, closed off, going through class. At the same time, in one case, we had a female student on Skype with a newborn in her arms and a toddler on her leg while she's in class. Her husband who's also in class in the back room by himself.

And that's just one example. We saw a lot of cases where these disproportionate familial responsibilities really came to the forefront when it came to particularly dual service members, but just women service members in general. If our male students were what we called geo-bachelors, geographic bachelors, meaning their families didn't come with them, they came alone. If our female students left their families at home, in reality, the children came with the female student and their husband stayed behind, so again, we really saw the familial responsibilities play out, and this is very much in keeping with the literature and a lot of higher education and business models, where women have disproportionate responsibilities and therefore disproportionate opportunities within work environments because of the home requirements.

Hennessey: Yes. I think this is just such a clear-cut educational example of the burden of the second and third and fourth shifts that women have outside of 'their day jobs', and it really illuminates the issue of just telling women to “lean in.” The Sheryl Sandberg approach, and I know many have poked holes in this, but I'm going to poke some more. When you just tell the women to lean in, that doesn't help. That doesn't address the systems that are causing this sort of burden and inequality.

Sankey: In this particular educational context, what effect does this sort of norming and gatekeeping and dismissal have on the productivity of the seminar, their ability to reach those mandated DLOs and the intent of the DoD, the WPS initiatives? What does that mean for what PME is supposed to do?

Hennessey: Yeah, so this is my area of research, which is why I'm so excited about this data. I look at learning outcomes and experiences in military education. And with the value of resident military education experience under such a microscope, this really brings some intense questions to the fore. If you break that value down further, you think the average students in the Senior Service College Resident Program is making over six figures with other benefits and entitlement, and now multiply that by 375. That's a lot of money and that hasn't even taken into account the monetary value of faculty and staff experience and what they're contributing to that year in resident education.

And so we should be questioning the value of that experience, and this is one piece of it. How do gendered experiences influence the productivity of the seminar? What is most interesting to me is that these are all, and I think we've demonstrated this, researchable questions. You can go into the seminar and see and collect data on the individual and seminar-learning experiences based on the richness of the dialogue. You can take a rhetorical approach and examine it that way, you can look at group dynamics, which we did, you can consider climate, which we did. All of these things contribute better towards our understanding of what an outcome space military education setting could, should be, and how to get us to where we want it to be. What does learning look like? We could answer those questions, and the study was just one component of that. So to answer your question, Margaret, it definitely has an effect but I think this is just the beginning. Our study is the first of its kind, and we did it on a significant scale, but there is still a lot of work to be done here and more data to be collected and considered to feed into the policies that are being made, like the DoD and the WPS guidance.

Erwin: Absolutely. One of the things Megan talked about was this learning outcomes, and my current position as Director of Institutional Research and Program Assessment, how do we get to these outcomes? Is a big part of that conversation, particularly with the new Officer Professional Military Education Policy, which centers itself on outcomes-based military education. No longer can PME simply rest on its laurels by saying, 'Hey, we did what we said, we educated the students to be ready for strategic leadership based on everything that we gave them.' Now, there's a requirement from the Pentagon to say, 'No, we need to see how you're doing it and we need you to measure that you actually achieve those outcomes.' And they'll make sure that you're meeting the desired level of effectiveness. To do that really requires a much better understanding of, how do you create an adult-learning environment which supports achieving those learning outcomes and is not simply a matter of giving them information and expecting them to retain it without any real understanding of how that learning process occurs?

Sankey: The students who carry these multiple roles as well as meet resistance in the seminar are really burning up intellectual horsepower and emotional resilience at a disproportionate pace. Your paper describes this as a “diversity fatigue,” and unfortunately, I've heard this used to label the perceived hassle of having to care about this when we're all green or we're all blue. What are the consequences of this kind of weight and this kind of burn out on the people it affects?

Hennessey: They're tired.


Erwin: They're tired.

Hennessey: They're exhausted, and others can see it, so I think it's something important to keep in mind for our studies. We didn't just talk to the women, we also talked to the men, and one male participant in the study remarked that, 'We had one female, and that was it, and she also was the only African-American student in the class, and so I was quite surprised at the lack of diversity. That's not fair to put the burden on her, but she does it. I don't know willingly, but she does it well.' And again, that was a quote from a male participant, so they're tired, and it isn't fair. We can address these systemic representation issues and ensure that our students are not having undue cognitive and emotional load that is distracting from them achieving learning outcomes that are incredibly relevant to national security. This is a national security and readiness issue, and I think those conversations are just starting around the DoD, and I'd like to see them at a more micro level, such as at a senior service-level college, of which we have multiples.

So this was just the Army War College setting that we talked about in our study, but there are other war colleges, and I talked about future directions, let's apply this methodology and consider if these experiences are similar at the other war colleges. This is an answerable problem, so it's time to put some resources towards it.

Erwin: I think we also see, as you mentioned, this misconstrual of a lot of these buzzwords that we hear, one of which is diversity fatigue, and that a lot of people use it to reflect whether it's similar to survey fatigue. I've had too many surveys; I don't want to have any more. That is not what diversity fatigue is. Diversity fatigue is not, 'I'm tired of talking about these things.' Diversity fatigue is, 'I am tired of bearing the burden because I am the only diversity in the room.' And it is a much, much more narrow understanding of who can be fatigued by these conversations, not the people on the average in this conversation. And so I think a bigger conversation that I find frustrating is when we have conversations on diversity, and particularly in the military, is using these buzzwords and thinking that if we hit all these wickets, then we've met the intents without a real honest conversation which actually gets to the root of these understandings, to really understand what these words mean, and not only what they mean in theory, but what they actually mean for the people who are living that experience.

Sankey: I've read a lot of the leadership writing about wanting to make your command or your staff meetings a safe space for people to be innovators, to be risk-takers, to bring their authentic selves into the room. What can studies like this do to make that more of a realistic possibility?

Hennessey: I think the number-one thing is exposure. If you want your students to bring their authentic selves into the classroom, then you need to know what those authentic selves are and the value of that expression, and you're not going to get there by an optimization algorithm on how to put students in seminars. You're not going to get there by isolating the 'socially indigestible group'. So I think that qualitative research, such that we used in this study, brings a different level of rigor and richness into understanding the variation and lived experiences, and you can layer that with what we know about faculty development and the science of teaching and learning to ensure that it is connected to outcomes as we spoke about earlier.

Erwin: Yeah, I think it's a question of limitations, it's a question of understanding the limitations that you as a leader are creating in a space. Like, who are you removing from the room by creating requirements? Who are you supporting in those processes? So limitations of your creating. The limitations that are a natural by-product of organized spaces such as the military or a classroom and we can't necessarily remove, but certainly can be mitigated to create a more inclusive environment. And so I think it's like Megan said, this exposure and this understanding of the limitations, both intentional and unintentional, that allow leaders to create more inclusive spaces and more inclusive classrooms. Faculty understanding these conversations, they're at the forefront of these classrooms. They really set a lot of the tone that our students who, since they're only here for a year when it comes to PME, really, the faculty have to create the spaces. We do a lot of norming within the seminar environments to get them to open up and have these discourses and honest conversations, but still, those conversations are often driven by the space and the environment which faculty and organizational leadership have set in the tone for the whole institution. So I think that really plays a role in how we create better spaces and address some of these issues.

Sankey: You've spoken a little bit about this, but what is the next stage in researching this and what sort of recommendations for students or faculty do you have to improve the experience and outcomes of SDE?

Erwin: Certainly, so I think when it comes to the next stage of research, specifically, one of the things that you want to do is, just keep the ball rolling, continue to have these conversations. Megan mentioned expanding the context within PME. Looking at different institutions. Also we centered the second phase of the study on gender. It would be nice to look at race and some of the other demographic identities which maybe aren't as easily measurable. The reason we centered on gender is it's very clear, it's very much a binary functionally in the military. It's very obvious in the way people dress and are coded. It's not sort of you can't pass per se, so it was much easier for us to measure, but it would be nice to extend these conversations beyond gender.

Also, one of the things we've done is use this evidence-based decision-making, this process. When I came here to Air Command and Staff College, they saw my previous research, so leadership asked me my thoughts on... They were currently still slating off of gender, and based on the literature, based on the research, I was able to convince them so that now for AY23, ACSC will no longer slate students into seminars by gender. So continuing to spread the word on these conversations. This really requires the military and professional military education really reinforcing this move towards outcomes-based education, but to make these educational decisions on evidence, really data-driven decision-making. A lot of these conversations have been very how we feel about these things. The social pressures that occur are what push policy but rather than do that, we're really having these evidence-based discussions and data-driven decision making, which requires more research, both quantitative and qualitative to do so.

Hennessey: And as a Navy public affairs officer, I would be remiss if I didn't say messaging. There has to be consistent messaging on the value of this sorta scholarly work and the evidence and data that results from it, from the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top because we have seen, especially in this study, that the 'bottom' becomes the top in five years or less. They're considered for faculty roles in these institutions and they see what is happening as we've shared previously, so the messaging has got to be there. It really, really does.

Sankey: Well, I have reached the end of my questions. Are there things that either of you would like to expand upon?

Hennessey: I just want to share to my point about messaging, we've had a wonderful opportunity to share this data over the past four years, those who commissioned it originally at the Army War College and others throughout the DoD, the Department of the Air Force and other scholarly communities. There is always a great interest. And really appreciate those who have shown support for continuing this work, especially the leadership that commissioned the original study, and that was Dr. Richard Lacquement, who was the dean of the School of Strategic Leadership at the time in 2018, and then Col. Michelle Ryan, who became the dean. They were invested and that was very clear by their tasking for my office to spend the time and the resources to get to the bottom of these difficult questions, and they appreciated the data that resulted. Very, very grateful for their leadership.

Erwin: I would just want to add as well a special thank you to Dr. Brett Weigle and Dr. Brandy Jenner, who are our co-researchers, as Megan mentioned, on this project, and I think that it was really great to see a number of different kinds of perspectives within social sciences. It's often rare in PME that we see a very strong interdisciplinary approach to these conversations, and so it was really beneficial to the entire research process to have, and the design to have such different perspectives creating a much more comprehensive understanding of what we were getting when it came to the data.

Sankey: Thank you both. Dr. Erwin, Dr. Hennessey. Thank you for joining us today for Wild Blue Yonder on the Air. That's it for us.

Hennessey: Thank you so much, Dr. Sankey.

Erwin: Thank you so much, and have a wonderful day.

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