Women's Foundation Releases Findings From Project Diane Research

Study Shows Barriers and Potential Benefits to Gender Integration in the U.S. Army Special Forces

Kansas City, MO – Today, on the eve of Veterans Day, Women’s Foundation released findings from Project Diane, a research study examining the integration of women into military.  Findings from the research, conducted in partnership with the University of Kansas and the Army Research Institute, show significant barriers and potential benefits to gender integration in the U.S. Army Special Forces.

“Women’s Foundation is committed to working for meaningful change,” said Wendy Doyle, President & CEO of Women’s Foundation. “We hope this research draws attention to the stereotypes and institutional barriers that hold women back in the military and other male dominated professions so they can be addressed, allowing women greater opportunities to lead.”

"We find a great deal of resistance to gender integration in the military, particularly in the elite Special Operations units," said University of Kansas associate professor of political science and chair of the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Alesha Doan, one of the lead researchers. "While some of this is related to explicit policies regarding physical standards, many of the barriers are rooted in the traditional gender stereotypes that are often hidden an unexamined by military personnel in their everyday interactions with each other."

"By sharing the experiences of women and men within the organization, we highlight the obvious as well as covert ways traditional gender stereotypes permeate seemingly gender neutral policies and practices, reinforcing barriers to women’s leadership and full integration in the military," said researcher Shannon Portillo, an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration

“We are proud to support Women’s Foundation’s leadership in breaking down these barriers and hope the findings from this research will prompt change in civilian workplaces as well as the military so that more women can lead and achieve their full potential” said Jack Ovel, Regional Vice Chairman for U.S. Trust Company, Representing Bank of America in Kansas City.  

"This research is an important step in changing not only structural barriers but in changing mindsets and assumptions we have about military women.” Emma Toops, US Army Major (Retired). “Highlighting the micro and macro barriers in the workplaces of all women, not just military women, provides clear opportunities for change."

The Women’s Foundation research study, presented at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, was led by KU researchers and included a large-scale survey and analyzed 24 focus groups with 198 Special Forces men and women in order to identify potential barriers and benefits to female integration in Special Forces. 

Findings and themes that emerged were confidence opportunities and limitations, structural barriers and the value of sharing experiences.  The report’s takeaways included the importance of both mentoring and support networks and changing the conversation such as challenging underlying gender stereotypes not only for women in the military, but in corporate and private sectors as well.  In addition, the researchers recommend that policy changes aimed at integrating women into combat arms of the military must take into account the "entrenched nature of gendered practices."

"Training interventions must target all members of military and military support community, including Veterans Affairs and veteran support organizations to better understand how gender covertly shapes the nature of daily practices," said Doan and Portillo.

A copy of the Project Diane research report can be found here:


Women’s Foundation promotes equity and opportunity for women of all ages, using philanthropy, research and policy solutions to make meaningful change.  More information about the organization can be found at www.Womens-Foundation.org.