Exploring the Lack of African Americans in the Department of Defense Senior Executive Service Corps

By Nelson, Audrea M. | Journal of Marketing and Management, May 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Lack of African Americans in the Department of Defense Senior Executive Service Corps


Nelson, Audrea M., Journal of Marketing and Management


Introduction

The Department of Defense (DoD) has established and implemented recruitment and retention programs with the goal of developing and hiring a diverse and professional civilian senior executive service (SES) workforce (DoD, 2009). One of the DoD's main objectives has been to secure a professional, diverse workforce that possesses remarkable leadership skills, abilities, and knowledge. Additionally, the DoD has sought to form a workforce that enables professionals to execute strategic initiatives focused on achieving the department's mission, which is to deter war and protect the national security interests of the United States (DoD, 2009).

According to the DoD (2013b), to develop a diverse SES workforce, various leadership development programs have been developed and implemented. Two of these programs include the Defense Leadership and Management Program (DLAMP) in 1997 (DoD, 2013 a) and the Defense Senior Leader Development Program (DSLDP) in 2009. The purpose of development and implementation of the DLAMP was to form a cadre of highly capable senior civilian leaders with a joint perspective on managing the department's workforce and programs. Also, the DoD sought to develop civilian leaders to allow them to acquire a defense-wide perspective of missions and functions, to gain a substantive understanding of the DoD's national security mission, and to develop strong leadership and management skills.

Even though since 2000 the number of African Americans increased in the DoD's workforce, the number of African Americans appointed to SES leadership positions did not increase at a proportionate rate (Akaka, 2011; Arnsdorf, 2011; Bass, 2008a; Lim, Cho, & Curry, 2008; Lynn, 2009). The number of career SES members increased from 6,110 in 2000 to 6,555 in 2007; however, the representation of African American men and women in SES positions declined during that same period from 5.5% to 5.0% (U.S. Government Printing Office [GPO], 2009). Furthermore, African American employees represented 6.1% of federal employees at the senior executive level and 17.8% of the permanent federal workforce compared to 10.1% in the civilian labor force in 2007. African American employees remain underrepresented in the SES ranks of the federal workforce, including the DoD (as cited by the GPO). Although the DoD was successful in establishing and implementing leadership development programs such as the DLAMP and the DSLDP, it is still challenged with establishing a demographically diverse senior executive leadership corps that is reflective of its workforce (DoD, 2012).

There is a gap in research that explores the personal experiences and perceptions of minorities concerning personal attributes and factors that contributed to their promotion to the SES leadership level. Specifically, literature is limited on African American SES leaders' lived experiences and perceptions in advancing their careers to the SES level. Therefore, the present phenomenological study focuses on the perceptions of nine African American senior executives within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Defense Agencies, and Defense Field Activities about the personal attributes and factors that contributed to their promotion into SES Corps. Acquiring the perceptions of these nine senior executives help to gain an understanding of their lived experiences in advancing their career to the SES level. Specifically, this study aided in answering the central research question of: What are the perceptions of successful African American senior executives in the OSD, Defense Agencies, and Defense Field Activities about the personal attributes and factors that contributed to their promotion into an SES leadership position? The current study was designed to explore this question using the following four subquestions (SQs):

SQ-1. What are participants' perceptions on whether African Americans are trained to become senior executive leaders in the OSD, Defense Agencies, and Defense Field Activities? …

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