Military Women and Their Use of Voice in the Workplace
Arlene McConville, Ed.D., MBA
November 7, 2016
Based on the work of Albert O. Hirschman (1970), this paper centers on the assumption that the
use of voice in the workplace is a basic function in which employees attempt to change and
improve the current functioning of their organization. However, studies show that not everyone
is empowered to use voice in the workplace. Tenure is found to influence employees’ decision to
use voice (Ashford & Black, 1996; Bauer, Bodner, Erdogan, Truxillo, & Tucker, 2007).
Organizations can benefit from the diversity of ideas, and women bring with them new and
different sets of ideas. Therefore, it is important to understand the circumstances in which
women are empowered to use their voice in the workplace. As the military aims to be more
inclusive of women, understanding the relationship between tenure and voice may be a way for
the organizations to hear more from their women employees. The results of this study show that
military women with less tenure are more empowered to use their voice than those with much
In the recent election, Hilary Clinton almost broke what she called the thickest glass
ceiling – the U.S. presidency, the most powerful position in the free world. Although she did not
win, Hilary Clinton won the popular vote, which shows that the majority of the people in the
United States is ready for a woman president. Hillary Clinton’s historic role in this year’s
election signals a major shift in the political empowerment of women. Empowerment is “an
intentional, ongoing process through which people lacking an equal share of resources gain
greater access to and control over those resources” (Cornell Empowerment Group, 1998).
Women’s participation in the labor force the last few decades, which resulted in major
shifts in their economic and socio-political environments, demonstrates women empowerment at
its best. The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015a) record confirms that from 1975 to 2015 the
percentage of women in the labor force has increased from 42% to 53.7%. Women have made
even more significant progress in attaining professional and managerial positions. In 2014
“women accounted for 52 percent of all workers employed in management, professional, and
related occupations, somewhat more than their share of total employment” at that time, which is
47% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015b, p. 2). Although there is still more work ahead,
women have also made progress in their fight for pay equality. “In 1979, women working full
time earned 62 percent of what men earned; in 2014, women’s earnings were 83 percent of men’s
(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015b, p.1).
Women’s participation in the labor force improved not only their positions economically,
but also the role they play in the modern-day family dynamics. As more women enter the
workforce, a shift in parental, household and relationship responsibilities is taking place for both
men and women (Higgins, Duxbury, & Lyons, 2010). This shift in the women’s role is not only
due to economics; it has also become an accepted societal norm. While more women forge their
way in the workforce, more men are engaging in behaviors aligned with those traditionally
performed by women – being actively engaged in their personal and home lives (Duckworth &
Buzzell, 2009; Johansson & Klinth, 2008; Wilkinson, Magora, Garcia, & Khurana, 2009). In
fact, from 1967 to 2013, the number of families in which the wife is the sole wage-earner has
nearly quadrupled from 1.7% to 6.3% while the number of families in which the husband is the
sole wage-earner has decreased by almost half from 35.6% to 19%.
Although women’s empowerment has significantly improved the lives of women over the
years, the benefits of economic, social, and political empowerment are not only exclusive to
women. Klasen and Lamanna (2009) found that an increase in the labor force participation
results in faster economic growth; when more women work, economies grow. Women’s
economic equality is also good for business. McKinsey & Company (2014) report that
organizational effectiveness increases as leadership opportunities for women increase.
Organizations also benefit when there is a diversity of ideas in the workplace; women bring with
them new sets of ideas and innovative solutions in the decision-making process. Therefore,
organizations and society benefit from understanding the circumstances when women are
empowered to participate in the decision-making process. The purpose of this study is to
examine when in their military career are women most empowered to participate and use voice
in the workplace.
In her work on the politics of participation, White (1996) explains that representative
participation gives members of the organization a voice. This type of participation serves as a
way for members of the organization to leverage their ideas in the decision-making of policies
and processes that affect them, while top level interest is served through processes and policies
In his seminal work to explain consumers' likely response to the decline in business and
states, Hirschman (1970) posits that voice is a basic function of the economic, social, and
political system. When people are unhappy about their situation, they either speak up or stay
silent. According to Hirschman (1970), under any economic, social, and political system, there
will be lapses from otherwise functional behaviors from individuals, business firms, and
organizations. To correct the system, he concludes that people will either exit their situation,
voice their concerns, or remain loyal. Rusbult, Zembrodt, and Gunn (1982) later propose neglect
as a fourth option.
Hirschman (1970) defines voice as an “attempt at all to change, rather than escape from,
an objectionable state of affairs” (Hirschman, 1970, p. 30). The use of voice is more than just
communicating a problem. Those who choose voice hope to change and improve the current
functioning of the organization, group, or individual (Barshshur & Oc, 2015). Loyalty is an
employee’s response to remain silent while waiting for the conditions to improve (Hirschman,
1970; Rusbult et al., 1988; Withey & Cooper, 1989). Neglect is putting in less effort (Rusbult et
al., 1982) such as lateness and absenteeism, and focusing attention on non-work interest (Withey
& Cooper, 1989). Exit is permanent departure from the organization (Withey & Cooper, 1989).
Studies have found that the use of voice has positive effects both at the organizational and
individual level. At the individual level, voice response reduces uncertainty and increases
individuals’ felt control over the processes, and individuals feel like valued members of the
organization (Lind & Tyler, 1988). At the organizational level, voice response is positively
related to work-related factors such as organizational citizenship, organizational commitment,
and job satisfaction (Colquitt, Conlon, Wesson, Porter, & Ng, 2001), organizational learning,
better decision making, and overall better performance (Morrison & Milliken, 2000).
However, not at all employees are empowered to use voice in asserting their concerns in
the workplace. In her study of the military community and their likely response to job
dissatisfaction with work and work-related factors, McConville (2016) found that women are
more likely than men to use voice. She explains this may be attributed “to the sense of
empowerment gained from serving in an institution that is physically and mentally tough, and
defying constrictive gender ideology” (p. 72). Silva (2008) argued that while some view the
military as a gendered institution, women serving in the military would disagree. For the women
in Silva’s (2008) study, their participation in the military is a social revolution that transcends
women as capable of protecting this country from harm’s way as well as their male counterpart.
Tenure also influences employees’ decision to use voice. However, there seems to be
contradictions in research findings on this issue. Naus, van Iterson, & Roe (2007) found that
organizational tenure positively related to voice behavior, while Van Dyne, Graham, and
Dienesch (1994) found a negative correlation. Other studies find that newcomers are more likely
to use voice to usurp more control (Ashford & Black, 1996; Bauer, Bodner, Erdogan, Truxillo, &
Tucker, 2007). On the other hand, individuals’ desire for control would have been fulfilled with
longer tenure (Avery, McKay, Wilson, Volpone, & Killham, 2011; Ivancevich, 1979; Lefkowitz,
1994), which makes voice opportunity less necessary. This argument is the basis for the
H1: Women with less tenure will use voice as their likely response to job dissatisfying
work and work-related factors.
H2: Women with longer tenure will less likely to use voice as their response to job
dissatisfying work and work-related factors.
While Hirschman (1970) developed the exit, voice, and loyalty options as a means for
consumers to express their dissatisfaction with the decline in performance of business firms, the
theoretical framework has been used in various sectors including government (Whitford & Soo-
Young, 2015), media (Flew, 2009), and public schools (Bejou, 2012). However, there is scant
research attention on the concept and the military community, even less on women’s use of the
voice option in the military. The results of this study have important applications because
organizations benefit when there is diversity in the decision-making process, and women bring
with them new and different sets of ideas and solutions. Therefore, organizations can benefit
from knowing when women are likely to use voice and ensure that those women are a part of the
decision-making and change processes.
The sample group was the 34 active duty military women attending Hawaii Pacific
University (HPU) who responded to a survey on military members’ job satisfaction in the
military. The island of Oahu has the fourth largest military workforce in the United States (“Oahu
Has the Fourth Largest Military Workforce in the U.S.,” 2012), and HPU Military Campus
Program has a strong military presence making the school an ideal place to survey military
An anonymous, self-report web-based survey was e-mailed to all military students
attending HPU Military Campus Program. The questionnaire was structured so that respondents
would choose from a list of alternative responses. The survey is divided into three parts. The first
three questions describe the participants’ characteristics – gender and number of years in the
military were assessed for this study. The tenure or number of years in the military is broken
down based on the military personnel’s typical contractual agreement – 1-4 years; 5-10 years;
11-20 years; and over 20 years. Although “each military branch offers a wide array of enlistment
contract terms and options...a standard military enlistment contract often requires four years of
active duty” (“What is a Military Enlistment Contract,” n.d., para. 2). At the end of their initial
service, military personnel either agree to continue serving or voluntarily separate. Those who
choose to stay will sign another contract to re-enlist or extend their initial enlistment. After 20
years of service, military members are eligible to retire with pay (“Retirement,” n.d.).
The second part of the survey asks the participants their level of satisfaction with 24 work
and workplace-related factors in their respective military organizations using a 5-point scale,
which range from 1 = very dissatisfied to 5 = very satisfied. Table 1 lists sample questions from
Table 1. Sample Survey Questions - Part 2
1 2 3 4 5
5. The work that you currently do at your unit.
9. Opportunities to advance to the next rank (work experience,
10. Balancing work and personal life.
23. Being part of the unit/team and its mission.
The last part of the survey asks the participants to choose from a list of four likely
responses when dissatisfied with work and workplace-related factors: voice, loyalty, neglect, and
exit. Table 2 lists questions which represent each option respectively.
Table 2. Sample Survey Question – Part 3
What is your MOST likely response when dissatisfied with work- and work-related factors?
______ Tell my supervisor and/or someone in my unit.
______ Nothing; that’s just the way it is.
______ Nothing; I just try to limit my association with work and/or people at work.
______ I have thought about leaving the military.
The participants’ likely responses when dissatisfied with work and workplace-related
factors were then evaluated using IBM® SPSS® Statistics Standard GradPack 22. A one-sample
t-test was conducted to test the hypotheses that employee tenure affects military women’s use of
voice. The level of significance was set at a .05 level.
RESULTS, FINDINGS, AND OUTCOMES
Table 3 reports descriptive statistics. Although there were 34 women participants, four
did not provide an answer on their likely response when dissatisfied with work and workplace-
related factors. The four participants probably did not respond because they were either satisfied
with all work and workplace-related factors, or they simply chose not to respond.
Of the 30 participants who responded, 15 or 50% of them chose voice as their likely
response when dissatisfied with work and workplace-related factors.
Table 3. Military Women’s Likely Response When Dissatisfied with Work and Workplace-Related
Response to Job Dissatisfaction
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Voice 15 44.1 50 50
Loyalty 6 17.6 20 70
Neglect 2 5.9 6.7 76.7
Exit 7 20.6 23.3 100
Total 30 88.2 100
Missing System 4 11.8
Total 34 100
H1: The Use of Voice Among Women with Less Tenure
Table 4 breaks down the likely responses of military women with 1 - 4 years in service
when dissatisfied with work and workplace-related factors. More than half or 57% of the military
women in this category chose voice over other options.
Table 4. Military Women with 1 - 4 Years of Service and Likely Response When Dissatisfied with
Work and Workplace-Related Factors
Response to Job Dissatisfactiona
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Voice 4 57.1 57.1 57.1
Loyalty 2 28.6 28.6 85.7
Neglect 1 14.3 14.3 100
Total 7 100 100
a Tenure = 1-4 years
A one-sample t-test was conducted to test whether military women’s choice to use voice
as their likely response to job dissatisfaction with work and workplace-related factors is
statistically significant. Table 5 shows that the data support Hypothesis 1 (t = 2.83, df = 6, p = .
Table 5. Military Women with 1 - 4 Years of Service and Voice Response
f Sig. (2-tailed)
Interval of the
Voice_Response 2.83 6 0.03 0.57 0.08 1.07
a Tenure = 1-4 years
H1: The Use of Voice Among Women with Longer Tenure
Table 6 breaks down the likely responses of military women with over 20 years in service
when dissatisfied with work and workplace-related factors – one chose loyalty, two chose exit,
and the one missing may be due to the fact that the participant was satisfied with all work and
work-related factors. None of the military women in this category chose voice as their response
Table 6. Military Women with Over 20 Years of Service and Likely Response When Dissatisfied
with Work and Workplace-Related Factors
Response to Job Dissatisfactiona
y Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Loyalty 1 25 33.3 33.3
Exit 2 50 66.7 100
Total 3 75 100
g System 1 25
Total 4 100
a Tenure = 20 years and over
A one-sample t-test was conducted to test whether military women in this category’s
likely response to job dissatisfaction with work and work-related factors is statistically
significant. Table 7 shows that the data support Hypothesis 2 (t = 5.00, df = 2, p = .04, two-
Table 7. Military Women With Over 20 Years of Service and Their Lack of Use of Voice Response
t df Sig. (2-tailed)
Interval of the
Response to Job
0 2 0.04 3.33 0.46 6.2
a Tenure = 20 years and over
The results of the study support earlier findings that newcomers or those with less tenure
are more likely to use voice (Ashford & Black, 1996; Bauer et al., 2007), while individuals with
longer tenure will less likely to use voice (Avery et al., 2011; Ivancevich, 1979; Lefkowitz,
1994). There are a number of possible explanations for military women’s use of voice in the
workplace or lack thereof.
Pettersen and Solbakken (2000) posit that “participation is in a sense a precursor to
empowerment” (p. 321). This may be the case for the military women who use voice in the
workplace; they are empowered to participate in changing what Hirschman (1970) refers to as
“objectionable state of affairs” (p. 30).
Hirschman (1970) also argues that “the voice option is the only way dissatisfied
customers and members can react whenever the exit option is unavailable” (p. 33). This may
explain the reason for the use of voice for those with 1 - 4 years of service. Military members are
typically bound by a four-year contract in their first enlistment (“What is a Military Enlistment
Contract,” n.d.). Individuals in this category are therefore limited with their response options –
either speak up or remain silent. Military women in this category chose to speak up. On the other
hand, military women with over 20 years of service have the option to retire or exit and,
therefore, may elect to no longer participate in changing the adverse conditions they are
experiencing the workplace. In fact, two of the three participants chose exit as their likely
Age may also be a factor. Earlier studies have found that both age and organizational
tenure are positively related to voice behavior (Naus, van Iterson, & Roe, 2007). In their paper
on psychological contract, Ng and Feldman (2007) propose that “older and more experienced
workers will feel less need to (and less desire to) speak to their superiors about broken promises
or make suggestions to the organizations…while younger and less experienced employees may
be more assertive in expressing their disappointment to employer” (p. 1066). Military women
with 1 – 4 years of service are younger and less experience; conversely, those with longer tenure
will be much older.
Despite the large volume of literature on the important and growing role of women in the
workforce, there has been relatively little discussion on women and their use of voice in the
workplace. As the military aim to be more inclusive of women, understanding the relationship
between tenure and voice may be a way for organizations to hear more from their women
employees. The results of this study show that military women with less tenure are empowered
to use their voice in the workplace. Organizations need to capitalize on this and ensure that
women who are willing to use voice should be a part of the organizational discussions. Listening
to those who use voice provides organizations with diverse views and ideas; it also leads to
favorable employee reactions. However, Hunton, Price, and Hall (1996) warn that voice has an
adverse effect at the organizational level when ignored; the group found a 41% decrease in
employee output compared to when it was acted upon. This finding suggests that employees need
to be listened to not only to benefit from their ideas but also to prevent the negative impact of
employees feeling ignored.
Organizations can also benefit from finding a way for those women with longer tenure to
participate. Military women in this category chose not to participate because exit is a better
option. Departing employees take with them valuable knowledge and expertise gained through
experience. This is especially true in the military, in which every member is highly trained in his
or her field. Military women with over 20 years of service have a wealth of knowledge which
those less tenured yet more vocal members do not yet possess. Younger, less tenured military
women may have fresh, new ideas, while the older, more tenured members have the experience
and know-how to develop ideas to fruition.
The women participants in this study is a small representative of the entire military
population and the findings of this study are limited to individual reports, which may or may not
apply to the next person or organization. Similar studies should be conducted to learn and hear
more from employees. Organizations benefit from the diverse views and ideas in the decision-
making process when employees are empowered to use their voice.
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