Indira Torrealba


The number of women joining the military has been increasing, but why women choose to serve in the military varies. The role of gender is an important part of this paper because findings show that girls’ and boy’s motivation is associated with behaviors and beliefs linked to cultural stereotypes. Psychological and educational researches indicate that gender has a great influence on motivation. One of Meece’s study claims that “early studies drew on achievement motivation theories to explain why adult women and men differed in their educational and occupational pursuits” essentially it means that the role of gender in achieving motivation, has a long research history (Meece et al., 2006, p. 351). This paper will illustrate the importance of the role of gender for females choosing their careers and deciding to join the military.

It was indicated in all theories that boys had a much stronger ability and interests in mathematics and science studies while girls had stronger interests in arts and writing studies. However, the path that children take in their lives can be impacted by cultural stereotypes that shape their decisions and their future lives. Also, parental beliefs about their children’s capabilities have a very strong influence on the children’s interest in educational and future professional occupations.  Socialization and achievement experiences are very crucial in early gender development in a child’s motivation. The environment at home adds great importance to a child’s aptitude and interests. At school, children can corroborate, refine, and ratify their gender beliefs and manners. According to Meece, “research has indicated that cultural stereotypes lead parents to form different perceptions of their sons’ and daughters’ academic abilities” (Meece et al., 2006, p. 361). It is necessary to keep in mind that gender differences are taught in the child’s early development, so home and school environments are the steppingstones for a child’s motivation and achievement of life-long goals.

A great example is Katherine Johnson, an Afro-American female working as a mathematician for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) previously called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Johnson was hired at NACA in 1953 and she helped in missions by calculating the trajectory of space launches.

As Johnson said: “My dad taught us ‘you are as good as anybody in this town, but you’re no better. I don’t have a feeling of inferiority. Never had” (Hodges, 2020). Before the 1970s, it was common that men graduate from college, and got high-paying jobs; but for women, it was a different reality. However, women for the first time in the United States are obtaining more college degrees than men as pursuing careers in the military.

A report provided by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) indicated that the number of women in the senior and officer ranks in the military has considerably increased. Female soldiers have been allowed to join almost all military roles if they are competent, regardless of masculine prejudgment. As a military historian, Martin van Creveld has opposed female integration by supporting old arguments regarding female physical weakness (King, 2013). Ironically, to prove Creveld wrong, more than 20,000 female military members have served in Iraq and Afghanistan as of February 2012. Also, on plenty of occasions, women have been recognized for their heroism and two of them received Silver Star medals (Reis et al., 2019, p. 1005). It seems evident that someone’s gender plays an important role in their lives; however, society is changing so more women are joining the military.

Instructional designers need to support society’s positive change to increase gender equality. So, it will be helpful to design instructions that include the social cognitive theory which is the theory that claims individuals interpret actions and developed expectations about reinforcement impacting their behavior (Stipek, 2002). Another theory to consider is the expectancy-value theory which discusses expectancy for success and interaction and collaborative learning activities which increase higher self-efficacy in students. Other important attributes to consider are self-efficacy, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, etc. to reach achievement behaviors (Stipek, 2002). By applying these theories to the instructional design process, the military could help encourage more female applicants.

Literature Review

Stereotypes that society uses to label people can have an impact on our lives and our future. Psychological and educational researches have been conducted to identify how gender influences achievement motivation. Findings indicate that female and male motivation and their behavior keep following some of the old footpaths left by cultural stereotypes (Meece et at., 2006). In the last thirty years, the percentage of women earning college degrees has increased significantly. The National Center of Educational Statistics (NCES) indicated in 2004 that, in secondary school, the gender gap in science studies and mathematics have reduced and even disappeared. Besides young female students are taking mathematics and science to challenge themselves in high school. However, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), there are still considerable barriers to young females’ growth in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This statement is supported by the 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that exhibited that women make up only 28% of the STEM labor force. The results of women in STEM occupations in 2019 are as follows: 47.7% Biological Scientists, 42.5% Chemists & Material Scientists, 25.8% Computer & Mathematical Occupations, and 15.7% Engineers & Architects (American Association of University Women, n.d.). A brief analysis of these statistics clearly shows the trend that women are not as represented in STEM-oriented careers.

Expectancy and values influence achievement choices. People’s choices, performance, and persistence are intertwined with how well they believe they will do in a specific activity (Wigfield et al., 2000). For example, attributing success has positive motivation results while attributing failure has a negative motivation result.

By tradition, females served in the gender-specific military, roles such as in the medical services and administration division. However, in the past thirty years, female service members have been accepted to serve in combat ships as well as acceptance into the regular army. Nowadays, female military members make up fifteen percent of the armed forces and, in 2020, the number is expected to increase to twenty percent by the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). Even though the number of females joining the military is increasing, there are limited studies as to why females feel motivated and decide to be in the military.

A research study was conducted by the Women Veterans Cohort Study (WVCS). This was a two-phased study with Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) female veterans. The median sample age of those who were interview was 43.5 years (between 27 and 63 years of age). Fourteen of these females had a minimum of high school education and sixteen had post-high school education. Most of the contributors were deployed to Iraq, and the remaining to Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East. The reasons that arose from asking female military members why they joined to serve were opportunities, calling, and post-military life benefits such as retirement.

The military service offered many incentives that were motivating for them to join such as bonuses, full tuition reimbursement, skills, or trades that would offer professional career opportunities post-military life, as well as the opportunity to travel and experiencing new adventures. On the other hand, other participants felt motivated to join the military because of their patriotism, while others had familial ties to the military and future retirement benefits. From the research, only one female military member indicated that she joined because she saw a military commercial that asked: “Can you do this…be the best you can be?” (Mankowski et al., 2015, p. 319). She felt that she was competitive, and she knew she could do it. As the expert in Military Recruiting, International Relations, Gender, and the Armed Forces, Melissa Brown indicated in her studies “that marginalization of women within recruiting advertisement reinforces the links between military service and masculinity” (Reis et al., 2019). Even though females face odds and challenges due to cultural stereotypes, gender, and motivation, a report by the Services Women’s Action Network (SWAN) showed that more women pursue military careers and their numbers have noticeably increased in the high ranks. Atkinson’s expectancy-value theory indicates that challenging and difficult tasks have more incentive value for people. For instance, in 2018 there were sixty-three female admirals and generals on military active duty and the total female military members increased. Also, in 2019 the total number of female military members on active duty in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines last year were 210,000 and 5,955 in the Coast Guard (Sisk, 2019).

Practical Recommendations for Instructors and Instructional Designers

Since times have changed and cultural stereotypes are less critical for some individuals, it is important to follow the momentum and let instructional design help females reach their potential and flourish in careers that traditionally were not female-oriented (i.e. the military service). Researches claim, “women’s integration deserves equal opportunities across all branches in the military,” indicating more women should consider a military career (Reis et al., 2019, p. 1004). It is important to have equal opportunity in our society, so females can be the best they can be in whatever career they chose to get involved.

Also, instructional designers must pay attention to intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation as many females’ studies indicated they were motivated and driven by both types of motivations. As Bandura refers to self-efficacy, it is an important theory to include while designing instructions to project positive capability in performance. Study shows, “there is evidence that self-efficacy is a more powerful predictor of academic performance than more general perceptions of academic competence,” which essentially states that students who expected lower grades make more effort than students that expect higher grades. (Stipek, 2002, p. 42).  Instructional designers should include self-mastery, role modeling, and verbal persuasion. For example, self-mastery should include successful practices such as reviewing flying steps for a pilot before to take off. Role modeling could assist participants in increasing their motivation by observing successful stories regarding achievement. Finally, verbal persuasion is a great complement to boost motivation like the saying “you can do it”. Verbal persuasion can help an individual to picture achieving a goal. For example, studies provided that positive encouragement helped individuals to have more confidence in their capabilities (Stipek, 2002, p. 43).

Also, instructions need to be designed by having the perspective towards motivation as an expectancy-value theory. Atkinson and Eccles stand by the position that people’s choices, efforts, and performance relate to their beliefs, this means how well they will perform an activity. Research indicates that “expectancies and values are assumed to influence directly achievement choices”, if you believe you can do it, you have better chances to achieve your goal (Wigfield et al., 2000). Also, instructional designers should incorporate utility value to the training, so individuals understand how the current task will benefit them in their future careers (i.e. post-military career life) (Wigfield et al., 2000). Also, it is important to mention as the social cognitive theory implies “what matters is what a person believes will happen in the future, not what has happened in the past” it is important that most of the time, we as human beings believe in a new opportunity, so even if we failed in the past, the idea of a new chance makes us believe in a new opportunity for success (Stipek, 2002, p.39). The self-efficacy researcher, James Maddux recommended adding “imaginal experiences or visualization” to increase motivation (Ackerman, 2020). So, it will be helpful to include in the training exercises to help the audience to imagine their future successes to feel empowered and skilled (Ackerman, 2020). Instructional designers need to keep in mind that self-efficacy is based on ones’ belief in their skills to achieve goals, but motivation is based on ones’ wish to achieve. So, when making instructions, it is important to understand that someone motivated to achieve success will be more inclined to achieve their goals. Another important behavior used by Bandura’s notion is self-regulation that can be helpful to make realistic goals, so the students do not get discouraged if goals are set too high to be achievable. Personal goal setting supports students to set realistic goals, and they feel more responsible for their behavior. Also, self-recording is helpful for motivated students; as vicarious experiences influence individuals that have none or little experience with a task; for example, an individual without experience watching a peer complete the same task.


As researches on the expectancy-value model had shown that boys and girls start school with different views of their abilities, it will be helpful for future generations to end cultural stereotypes and allow every human being, regardless of gender, to choose any profession or occupation. Starting at home, parents should understand that they play a valuable role in their child’s development, ability, and value perceptions. Besides parents influence their children’s learning activities that help the growth of specific interests. As Katherine Johnson’s father fortified her confidence, every parent should encourage their children to follow their dreams no matter their gender. It is necessary to mention that “early studies suggested that teachers had higher achievement expectations for boys than girls, especially in male sex-typed activities” ADD (Meece et al., 2006). In addition to Johnson’s father, professor William Schieffelin Clayton told Johnson that’s he would make her a good research mathematician and he was going to prepare her (Hodges, 2020).  Everyone should have the freedom to choose their careers and destinies, regardless of their gender, and parents and teachers as the building base for self-efficacy and motivation should keep this in mind while interacting with their children and students.

Sadly, inequalities in gender still exist in the military, and the integration of women faces some difficulties in the different branches. However, it is important to let cultural stereotypes aside to complete the integration of women in the military and allow them to reach their maximum potential. Instructional designers and instructors creating military courses should work diligently to provide the best instructions to motivate their students. So, it is important to keep in mind motivational theories such as Bandura’s social cognitive theory while designing instructions that target females in the military. Self-efficacy, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are vital in reaching achievement behaviors. The studies discussed in this paper should help instructional designers and instructors to understand why females join the military and design instructions that touch those key points: calling, opportunities, and outcomes. Also, it will be helpful to design instructions that include goals, challenges, the big picture, and learn to teach students to look at obstacles in a positive way. Also, as Ackerman claimed, it will be beneficial to design courses with interaction and collaborative learning activities to obtain higher self-efficacy in students.

Albert Bandura: “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.” (Ackerman, 2020).


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