Minority Representation, Tokenism, and Well-being in Army Units

TitleMinority Representation, Tokenism, and Well-being in Army Units
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsPerez, Alycia L. U., and Tatiana V. Strizhko
JournalMilitary Psychology
Pagination449 - 463
Date Published08/2018

Racial and ethnic diversity is increasing in the US Army and women are moving into more combat roles. This puts minority soldiers at risk for being underrepresented in their work units. Tokenism theory predicts that when a work group has less than 15% representation in a social group, the numerically underrepresented minority (i.e., token) members are subject to three disadvantages: higher visibility, informal isolation, and role encapsulation. In the Army, where many companies contain small numbers of women and racial minorities, some soldiers may face additional stressors and constraints. We explored psychosocial, organizational, and health outcomes of all identifiable token women (N = 4,425) and Black soldiers (N = 5,040). Tokens were remarkably similar to non-tokens and majority soldiers on outcomes such as coping skills, adaptability, organizational trust, sleep, substance use, and pain. The intersection of token status in terms of race and gender was not related to any appreciable differences. One potential explanation is the shared Army culture that emphasizes group unity and the importance of the mission above individual characteristics and goals. The Army depends on cohesion, organizational identification, and commitment to the group in order to reduce stress and anxiety, and to maximize combat performance. For soldiers who have internalized this culture, it could be easier to see past individual differences such as gender and race and identify others in the unit as fellow soldiers primarily.

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